Virtual Reality around the Circle: Squadron Officer School

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Alexa Culbert
  • Air University Public Affairs

The idea of virtual reality has been around for decades, but it wasn’t until recently that it became mainstream technology. Air University’s Squadron Officer School is the first school around the circle that has integrated the use of virtual reality into their curriculum.

SOS provides leadership development for Air Force captains during a six and a half week course, which now includes the use of virtual and mixed reality. The SOS Learning Sciences and Technology Studio offers multiple virtual reality programs as part of their Immersive Learning Experiences, and their newest program is the Mixed Reality Learning Experience or MRLx.

 “We are excited about incorporating the [MRLx] into our course. We are bringing back role-play via innovative technology integrations to reach an application level of learning,” said Toni Hawkins-Scribner, SOS Learning Science and Technology Studio director. “MRLx is an emerging learning capability, and SOS is pioneering the use of the avatar-hosted simulations to support leadership development. This research-based capability allows for learners to develop their craft in a safe, academic environment.”  

MRLx offers a realistic, immersive two-way conversation with an avatar to provide learners with opportunities to put their leadership skills to the test for difficult, but necessary conversations.

Learners begin the simulation where one or two avatars initiate a conversation, and then present issues involving a series of different scenarios.

The real-life scenarios vary from administering disciplinary actions, resolving a dispute between two colleagues or providing counseling, but the scenarios also hide underlying issues that the students must pick up on and address.

“A student could miss important clues in the scenario, which in a real life situation, could lead to serious consequences... So if we can raise our students' awareness of the skills required in these leadership situations, then they can take action to be better prepared. And, that's a win,” said Bradley Aldridge, SOS Learning Science and Technology Studio innovation analyst.

Capt. Ivor Tiwari, SOS student, said it was a great simulation and that he believes all captains going forward in their careers need to have an idea on how to deal with these conversations.

“One way leadership competency is gained is through understanding and sustaining relationships,” said Capt. Casey Neuville, SOS Leadership Academic Chair. “MRLx gives the students an experience where they need to use their strengths and be self-aware of their own weaknesses to be successful at conflict resolution and aligning shared interests of all parties involved. Overall, student experiences have been very positive as they get this ‘hands-on’ learning experience. They learn the impact of what empathy can do and its power to resolve conflict and its ability to take care of people in complicated situations.”

SOS began the program to help develop their students into well-rounded leaders, however, outside organizations are now curious about the technology and the benefits it could bring to their own academic programs.

Last week, representatives from the University of Alabama visited SOS’s Learning Sciences and Technology Studio.

“I think we stand to learn a lot from one another,” said Jennifer Roth-Burnette, University of Alabama College of Continuing Studies representative. “This group is doing some great things with technology that we have been aspiring to do, but haven’t quite gotten there yet.