National Guard will test distance-learning standard

National Guard will test distance-learning standard

Army National Guard soldiers try a new classroom in Rehoboth, Mass.

A student workspace in a Guard classroom in Las Cruces, N.M., has room for paper and online instructional materials.

Another Las Cruces Guard soldier studies under a computer monitor displaying the New Mexico state bird: the roadrunner.

The Army National Guard will upgrade its nationwide distance-learning program to handle streaming video and other interactive lessons.

The Guard Content Management System will distribute data more efficiently and allow searches of digital media clips, said Susan C. Dix, chief technology officer for the Guard's Distributive Training Technology Project.

It will use the Defense Department's new interoperability standard for distance learning, the Sharable Content Object Reference Model. SCORM is based on Extensible Markup Language.

Congress in 1995 gave the Guard money for a cost-effectiveness trial of distance-learning classrooms that other groups could share on a fee basis.

That project built nine classrooms in five states. Since then, the project has gotten annual congressional funding for 277 classrooms in all 50 states and four U.S. territories, Dix said.

The Army's Distance Learning Program is assisting the Guard by putting classrooms near Guard and Army soldier populations.

Here and there

But there's more to distance learning than just putting classroom equipment in the field, Dix said. Although the classrooms are attached to the Guard's asynchronous transfer mode WAN, the Guard distributes prepared lessons from CD-ROMs over the network and launches them from each classroom's server.

That avoids CD-ROM shipping costs but does not allow interactivity between classrooms. Also, the classrooms need to handle streaming video to distribute command and control information to troops or to accommodate community groups or other federal agencies that might rent the classrooms, Dix said.

Students will access the latest multimedia and collaboration applications through their classroom browsers.

'We're kind of out there at the forefront, learning all the lessons,' Dix said.

The existing lesson content is not SCORM-compliant, because the standard is in the early stages of acceptance by the armed services and their IT suppliers.

'Unfortunately, you have to support legacy systems as long as they're useful,' Dix said.

Central to the project is a back-end digital media data repository called TEAMS, said Thomas Addison, a senior associate with Booz, Allen & Hamilton Inc. of McLean, Va. Artesia Technologies Inc. of Rockville, Md., makes the TEAMS repository, which generates indexed metadata for audio, video and text files.

Addison said the contractor chose TEAMS because it follows the SCORM standard and works with the other chosen products.

The Inktomi Content Networking Platform from Inktomi Corp. of Foster City, Calif., manages the distribution and streaming of digital media from seven regional network hubs to classrooms, Addison said.

The Virage Video Application Platform from Virage Inc. of San Mateo, Calif., will capture streaming video from lectures and log the contents, Addison said. Subsequently, students who want to view only part of an archived lecture can pinpoint the segment.

The Army National Guard started testing the training applications about nine months ago, Dix said. A limited user test in January will involve 26 classrooms in Montana. If it goes well, the tests will move on to other classrooms.

'I'd be pretty surprised if we found a show-stopper at this point,' Dix said.

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