Air Force Eyes New Learning Systems in ‘Second Life’

WASHINGTON — In a pas­ture out­side Day­ton, Ohio, Wilbur and Orville Wright cre­at­ed the first prac­ti­cal air­plane and taught them­selves to fly it.
They called the place Huff­man Prairie and flew the 1905 Wright Fly­er III into his­to­ry on that rough patch of land.

MyBase islands in Second Life
A sec­tion of MyBase islands in Sec­ond Life. Cre­at­ed and main­tained by the Air Force.
Cour­tesy of Pam Brovi­ak
Click to enlarge

More than 100 years lat­er, Air Force pio­neers are cre­at­ing a lega­cy in anoth­er place called Huff­man Prairie, this one in a vir­tu­al world called “Sec­ond Life.” “What real­ly drew us out to [the vir­tu­al world] was this won­der­ful oppor­tu­ni­ty to inter­act and con­nect with peo­ple on a glob­al scale and with high lev­els of cre­ativ­i­ty,” Andrew Strick­er of the Air Force’s Air Uni­ver­si­ty at Maxwell Air Force Base’s Gunter Annex in Mont­gomery, Ala., told Amer­i­can Forces Press Service. 

“We thought Sec­ond Life was per­fect for doing inno­va­tion work in the Depart­ment of Defense,” said Strick­er, whose team is part of Air University’s inno­va­tions and inte­gra­tion division. 

The online world — one of many now oper­at­ing in cyber­space — was launched by San Fran­cis­co-based Lin­den Lab in 2003. Sec­ond Life has 20 mil­lion reg­is­tered user accounts from all over the world and is pop­u­lat­ed by avatars, or dig­i­tal rep­re­sen­ta­tions that users cre­ate for themselves. 

Sec­ond Life res­i­dents explore the world, meet oth­er res­i­dents, social­ize, par­tic­i­pate in indi­vid­ual and group activ­i­ties, and cre­ate and trade vir­tu­al prop­er­ty and ser­vices. All sorts of orga­ni­za­tions, insti­tu­tions and com­pa­nies have estab­lished islands or activ­i­ties in Sec­ond Life, includ­ing col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties, libraries, gov­ern­ment agen­cies, embassies, sci­en­tif­ic research groups, reli­gious orga­ni­za­tions, and nation­al defense min­istries and depart­ments, includ­ing the U.S. Defense Depart­ment and all of the ser­vices. Strick­er and his team help to design, devel­op and imple­ment new learn­ing tech­nolo­gies and stan­dards into Air Force and pro­fes­sion­al mil­i­tary edu­ca­tion programs. 

The Air Force is explor­ing sev­er­al vir­tu­al worlds for its work in edu­ca­tion and has sev­er­al pro­to­type vir­tu­al learn­ing com­mu­ni­ties in Sec­ond Life. These include MyBase — a vir­tu­al Air Force base for recruit­ing, train­ing, edu­ca­tion and oper­a­tions — and dif­fer­ent ver­sions of Huff­man Prairie called Huff­man Prairie Chi, Huff­man Prairie Omega, and oth­ers. With MyBase, Air Force Maj. Gen. Erwin F. Les­sel want­ed an immer­sive expe­ri­ence that peo­ple could use to see what being in the Air Force is like, Strick­er said. 

At the time, Les­sel — who retired in 2010 — was direc­tor of plans, pro­grams, require­ments and assess­ments for the Air Force. One of his respon­si­bil­i­ties was devel­op­ing and imple­ment­ing future learn­ing concepts. 

“We cre­at­ed all these dif­fer­ent roles that peo­ple can learn about as they trav­el through MyBase in Sec­ond Life — what it’s like to be a chap­lain in the Air Force, what it’s like to be part of a med­ical team, to be in basic mil­i­tary train­ing, to be a pilot.” 

Dur­ing a recent inter­view, Strick­er joined Patrick “Mike” McCrock­lin, chief of the inno­va­tions and inte­gra­tions divi­sion in Air University’s edu­ca­tion logis­tics and com­mu­ni­ca­tions direc­torate, and Eve­lyn Mil­ton, an infor­ma­tion tech­nol­o­gy pro­gram ana­lyst in the same division. 

From MyBase, Mil­ton said, avatars can “tele­port or fly over to anoth­er region next to it and see a repli­ca­tion of a Navy area. The Naval Under­sea War­fare Cen­ter out of Rhode Island is to the west of us in Sec­ond Life.” 

To the north of MyBase are two Army sec­tions, she said, one called One­Source, a vir­tu­al com­mu­ni­ty that lets geo­graph­i­cal­ly dis­persed sol­diers, fam­i­ly mem­bers and friends stay in touch. 

“Each region we have out there is ded­i­cat­ed to some par­tic­u­lar area of learn­ing,” McCrock­lin said. “Huff­man Prairie Gam­ma, for instance, is ded­i­cat­ed to edu­ca­tion­al infor­mat­ics. MyBase Zeta is our gam­ing range.” 

At MyBase Zeta, the Air Force built a train­ing game called “Oper­a­tion Relief Work­er Res­cue Chal­lenge” to teach Air Force Acad­e­my cadets about lead­er­ship. “We got togeth­er with the Air Force Acad­e­my and the Cen­ter for Cre­ative Lead­er­ship,” Strick­er said, “and built a game where play­ers had to go into the vir­tu­al world and res­cue hostages who had been tak­en captive.” 

Dur­ing the chal­lenge, the play­ers oper­ate in a spe­cif­ic sce­nario under a dead­line and have to share infor­ma­tion and work togeth­er. On the gam­ing range, avatars also freely inter­act with ter­rain, build­ings, devices and equip­ment. The range has sys­tems that can iden­ti­fy, track and score team mem­bers and fol­low voice and text com­mu­ni­ca­tion among them. 

There are brief­ing rooms, video record­ings of game activ­i­ty, tar­get dam­age and scor­ing, sim­u­lat­ed weath­er, day or night con­di­tions, assign­ment of equip­ment and tools to each team mem­ber, and goal-ori­ent­ed task action, tim­ing and feed­back con­trols for use by game referees. 

Strick­er said the lead­er­ship game was cho­sen as an exam­ple of inter­ac­tions and inno­va­tions among peo­ple, orga­ni­za­tions, process­es and tech­nol­o­gy in the 2009 book, “Cross­cut­ting Issues in Inter­na­tion­al Trans­for­ma­tion,” pub­lished by Nation­al Defense University. 

In 2010, the Fed­er­al Vir­tu­al Worlds Chal­lenge rec­og­nized anoth­er Air Uni­ver­si­ty project. The chal­lenge is an annu­al, open, glob­al call for the best vir­tu­al world imple­men­ta­tions on a spe­cif­ic topic. 

The Army Research Lab­o­ra­to­ry Sim­u­la­tion and Train­ing Tech­nol­o­gy Cen­ter leads the effort, and in 2010 the top­ic was train­ing, with cat­e­gories for col­lab­o­ra­tion, skill build­ing, instruc­tion and visualization. 

The $25,000 grand prize went to Strick­er, McCrock­lin and Cyn­thia Calongne of Air Uni­ver­si­ty for the Mars Expe­di­tion Strat­e­gy Chal­lenge. Work­ing with NASA’s Jet Propul­sion Lab­o­ra­to­ry, Strick­er said, “we basi­cal­ly took com­mis­sion stud­ies the White House spon­sored on human space flight options for the future of the Unit­ed States, and made a game out of it.” 

In its rec­om­men­da­tion, the com­mis­sion had to weigh tech­nol­o­gy and cost issues, com­pet­i­tive stances for the coun­try, polit­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions and more. “In this game, you’re pre­sent­ed with the same kind of evi­dence the com­mis­sion inter­act­ed with and you have to for­mu­late your own posi­tion and artic­u­late why you’ve tak­en it,” Strick­er said. 

“At the end of the game, you’re able to com­pare your rec­om­men­da­tion to the commission’s,” he added, “and peo­ple tell us it’s a fun thing to do to see how close you’ve come.” Vir­tu­al worlds have the poten­tial to trans­form edu­ca­tion, Strick­er said, by tak­ing stu­dents on a jour­ney that goes beyond read­ing words in a text­book. “As stu­dents must do in real life,” he said, in vir­tu­al-world learn­ing sit­u­a­tions “they have to devel­op skill sets to read the envi­ron­ment around them, col­lect data, inter­pret it, ratio­nal­ize through under­stand­ing how to weigh the evi­dence, and then syn­the­size it and take a position.” 

In Sec­ond Life and oth­er vir­tu­al worlds, Strick­er said, his team cre­ates sce­nar­ios that allow stu­dents to manip­u­late pieces of a prob­lem and see the con­se­quences of their choic­es. “You have the stu­dents build a mod­el of what they think they under­stand,” he said. “Say if you’re a mete­o­rol­o­gist in the Air Force and you’re try­ing to under­stand the effects of cer­tain geo­graph­ic char­ac­ter­is­tics on weath­er flow pat­terns. Then you can manip­u­late the mod­el and see the consequences.” 

The team has built sim­i­lar mod­els for sus­tain­ing geot­her­mal ener­gy and, with the Air Force Insti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy, for under­stand­ing the effects of mate­ri­als and atmos­pher­ic con­di­tions on radar signals. 

It’s like a rev­o­lu­tion that’s occur­ring in what we can teach our stu­dents,” Strick­er said. “Now stu­dents who may have had a hard time learn­ing [from a book] can see a visu­al­iza­tion. Our stu­dents are telling us that this is pro­found.” Vir­tu­al worlds are inher­ent­ly col­lab­o­ra­tive, Strick­er said, for stu­dents as well as for those who teach. 

Mul­ti­ple uni­ver­si­ties and agen­cies par­tic­i­pate in every sin­gle Air Force vir­tu­al world project, he added. “We think a real­ly excit­ing future is shap­ing up [in vir­tu­al words],” Strick­er said, “where we’re break­ing down walls across the ser­vices [and] find­ing com­mon ground.” When Strick­er and McCrock­lin first dis­cov­ered Sec­ond Life, they were drawn in by inno­va­tion occur­ring among peo­ple who col­lab­o­rat­ed across dis­ci­plines involv­ing art, edu­ca­tion and com­put­er sci­ence, and across indus­try and government. 

“We’re big believ­ers in bring­ing peo­ple togeth­er who oth­er­wise would­n’t know the oth­er groups exist,” Strick­er said. Het­old a sto­ry about their ear­ly days in Sec­ond Life. One day at vir­tu­al Huff­man Prairie, where they had built a 1920s air­field, he said, their avatars were test­ing an unmanned aer­i­al vehicle. 

“We were fly­ing this thing around in front of our vir­tu­al hangars,” Strick­er said, “and an avatar we’d nev­er seen walks up and says, ‘Are you Dr. Strick­er?’ Strick­er, whose Sec­ond Life avatar is called Spin­oza, was sur­prised, but said yes. The oth­er avatar said, “Hold on, I’ll go get my dad.” 

“Hi, I’m Gen­er­al Les­sel,” the direc­tor of Air Force plans, pro­grams, require­ments and assess­ments said over his son’s Sec­ond Life voice chat. “I heard about you guys out here. I only have a few min­utes, but tell me a lit­tle about what you’re doing.” 

“For the next hour and a half, we walked him around and showed him stuff,” Strick­er said. “From that expe­ri­ence, he flew out here … and sat down with Mike’s team.” Soon after, Stick­er said, “he asked us to demon­strate what we could do with vir­tu­al worlds for the Air Force.” 

“It mat­ters a great deal that DOD is into [vir­tu­al worlds] right now,” Strick­er said, “so we under­stand and can lever­age and gain from our expe­ri­ences how to go for­ward in the future.” 

Source:
U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

Face­book and/or on Twit­ter

Team GlobDef

Team GlobDef

Seit 2001 ist GlobalDefence.net im Internet unterwegs, um mit eigenen Analysen, interessanten Kooperationen und umfassenden Informationen für einen spannenden Überblick der Weltlage zu sorgen. GlobalDefenc.net war dabei die erste deutschsprachige Internetseite, die mit dem Schwerpunkt Sicherheitspolitik außerhalb von Hochschulen oder Instituten aufgetreten ist.

Alle Beiträge ansehen von Team GlobDef →