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Technical training students gain learning connectivity through expanded Wi-Fi project

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Holly Patterson
  • Air Education and Training Command

JOINT BASE SAN ANTIONIO – RANDOLPH, Texas – In an effort to advance learning opportunities for Airmen, and enable training and education from any device, Air Education and Training Command officials have expanded a project installing commercial wireless internet across the command and into all training dormitories.

The previous $6.3 million AETC Wide Area Knowledge Education Nexus (AWAKEN) project provided Wi-Fi capabilities in main mission areas and learning environments across Second and Nineteenth Air Force, giving students better access to training portals.  An $18.5 million expansion will fund remaining base-identified mission areas through fiscal year 2025. Currently, six AETC locations provide Wi-Fi in training dormitories at no-cost to Airmen, but this new project expansion allocates $25.8 million to consolidate funding at the MAJCOM level and incorporate additional dormitory locations.

Extending network access to all training dormitories within Second Air Force allows Airmen to use their government-provided devices without interruption.  Before the initial learning connectivity project, students in the majority of technical training were using their own personal devices and internet service to access training content.

“Learning Wi-Fi connectivity puts control of on-demand training in the hands of students and instructors,” said Maj. Gen. Michele Edmondson, Second Air Force commander.  “Today's learners join the Air Force after being fully immersed in the digital world, but the architecture of technical training is predominately rooted in the past. We realize that developing the learning ecosystem starts with ensuring no-cost Wi-Fi internet is seamlessly available from classrooms to dorms to enable their learning anytime anywhere.”

Related: AETC Learning Wi-Fi Service begins roll out across command

Responsible for 93% of technical training in the Air Force, Second Air Force officials are spearheading plans to drive the transformation of technical training and are moving from a one-size-fits-all approach toward a sixth-generation learning ecosystem across its five technical training wings.

Current policy allows commanders to procure communication or information technology solutions needed to meet mission requirements. However, streamlining the funding and process for command-wide implementation means less duplication of efforts and more consistent availability across training locations while reducing the sustainment burden on local units.

According to Edmondson, dormitories are critical to the learning ecosystem, as a platform for on-demand, immersive learning early on in an Airman or Guardian’s career. Officials at Second Air Force operate 107 training dorms across 19 locations for 265 Air Force specialties.

“Our Airmen today are digital natives and they’re accustomed to a certain educational standard,” said Maj. Christopher Sweeney, Second Air Force’s director of logistics, engineering and force protection. “The end-state goal is for a student to have unencumbered access to learning materials and the ability to increase confidence at a personalized pace.”

Tech. Sgt. Kyle Ingram, a former instructor supervisor with Sheppard Air Force Base’s 362nd Training Squadron where dorm Wi-Fi capabilities were first implemented, said having that capability has helped improve academics and reduced static time where students aren’t actively learning.

“In our courses at 362nd TRS, we have seen improvements in both student retention and student attention in-and-out of class,” said Ingram, who now leads Sheppard’s technical training transformation innovation cell. “Our new generation of Airmen crave information constantly. If we can’t appeal to their learning styles, we will not be able to produce the world’s best Airmen.”

Brig. Gen. Lyle Drew, 82nd Training Wing commander at Sheppard AFB, said implementing Wi-Fi expansion across the learning environment and dormitories at Sheppard AFB helped support advanced training methodologies, such as augmented and virtual reality, self-paced learning and student-centered learning.

“Here’s the reality—until this year, there were only three technical schools in Texas without campus-wide Wi-Fi: Sheppard AFB, Goodfellow AFB and JBSA-Lackland,” said Drew. “Student-centered Wi-Fi in the dorms, paired with the appropriate devices allows our Airmen the opportunity to integrate technical training with their preferred learning styles, transforming learning into a flexible and agile experience that has no boundaries.

Sweeney echoed Drew and Ingram’s messages.

“By digitizing courseware and increasing student access, the instructors have gained the ability to assess progress and assign additional materials in a way that was not previously available,” said Sweeney. “The Air Force ultimately wants an Airman to arrive to the field with the highest quality training and the competence and confidence to perform their duties.”

Related: $6.5M Wi-Fi project nears completion

Ingram also said the new capability is about more than just improving the learning environment—it’s about modernizing the competitive advantage and delivering mission-ready Airmen to the field much faster.

“When most of the population has Wi-Fi capabilities, I do not consider it a luxury, but more so a necessity,” said Ingram. “We need to be able to provide our Airmen with the newest and most up-to-date information and technology possible to be ahead of our adversaries.”

Phase one of the project’s implementation is currently in execution and includes an initial distribution of $1.57 million toward centrally funding the six existing AETC locations providing Wi-Fi in dorms with a completion date set for March 31. All 15 main training locations are expected to be online by end of fiscal year 2024, with geographically separated units following once all main locations have been completed.

So far, with the addition of learning capabilities in the dorms, data shows performance evaluations are better and retention of information has increased, according to Edmondson.

“Investing in Wi-Fi improves success for our students where they live, learn and connect, preparing for the future fight,” Edmondson said. “We must transform technical training to adapt the best available methodologies and technologies aimed at an Airman-focused end state. These transformations give Airmen the opportunity to increase their reps and sets, and learn at a pace conducive to their individual ability.”

Robert Patt, Second Air Force’s director of communications, said that innovative ideas from Airmen are being applied across the command through collaboration and teamwork.

“This has come together because of great total force teamwork across the command,” said Patt. “Contributions and support from leaders who are listening to Airmen and exploring possibilities, backed up by the commitment and professionalism of stakeholders is coming together to demonstrate tangible progress toward digital age campuses of the future.”