University of Southern California
Rossier School of Education Excellence in Higher Education

Current Projects

Current CCT Funded Research and Development Projects

Pedagogical Catalyst Review of the Impact of Expertise and the Adaptability Benefit of Guided Experiential Learning (GEL)

The Pedagogical Catalyst area of research is a collaboration with the USC Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT) and encompasses three sub-themes: (1) defining the target experience, (2) guided discovery, and (3) creating the experience.

The overarching theme of this research is that learning is most effective when it involves a guided training experience. This new approach to the design of training is one of the training design systems adopted by Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) and will be one of the design alternatives for future TRADOC courses. Previous research has demonstrated the effectiveness of the Guided Experiential Learning (GEL) approach to instruction for a wide audience. This current study extends the research to answer two critical questions that surfaced during our prior research on the GEL design system: 1) Whether GEL is equally beneficial for students at all levels of prior knowledge expertise related to the tasks being learned, and; 2) Whether guided training approaches such as GEL support the learning of adaptable knowledge, skills and attitudes.

Training researchers have claimed that guided training may be most beneficial for students with novice or intermediate levels of prior knowledge expertise but that more advanced students benefit from less guided or discovery based learning. In addition, some researchers have claimed that guided training does not support adaptable learning. Research on these questions is unclear and so we are conducting an experiment where ROTC and pretested college students with different levels of knowledge about how to negotiate with people from Middle Eastern cultures are assigned to one of three treatment conditions: 1) ICT's BiLAT, designed using a discovery approach, or 2) ICT’s GEL-based AIDE video, based on the GEL system, or 3) both programs (AIDE first, then BiLAT). Outcome measures focus both on conceptual and applied knowledge of intercultural negotiation. In addition, we are providing highly novel problem scenarios to check the adaptability impact of the four different treatments. We anticipate that one result of the experiment will be evidence that will permit a more precise assignment of learners to courses that are targeted to their level of prior knowledge. Evidence about the adaptability consequences of the different treatments will provide needed science to support the current discussion about training for adaptability.

The results of the study will also help inform the continued development of ICT projects and help inform the many presentations and workshops ICT provides for TRADOC schools. This proposal covers the on-going technical management tasks required to make the innovative integration of a diverse set of research and development tasks a reality. The end product will be a more cohesive program for transitioning basic research into more effective applications for learning and training.

Immersive Naval Officer Training System (INOTS)

CCT has also partnered with ICT to develop the Immersive Naval Officer Training System (INOTS). The INOTS effort is to train officer candidates in interpersonal leadership skills by practicing complex problem solving and situational awareness in an instructor-facilitated simulation environment with a Virtual Human. CCT is conducting cognitive task analysis (CTA) to determine tasks, learning objectives and the procedural and conceptual knowledge required to perform the interpersonal skills that will be trained in these simulators. The Center is also assisting ICT in the instructional design of the training materials, as well as the design of the assessment instruments and overall evaluation of the training programs.

The Learning Immersion For Ensigns Basic Officer Adaptability Trainer (LIFE-BOAT) demonstration prototype represents the first phase of INOTS. LIFE-BOAT will feature a Mixed Reality environment populated by a Virtual Human. The LIFE-BOAT experience will focus on the interpersonal skills component of individual and team leadership via an immersive exchange between a prospective Ensign and a Virtual Human. The Virtual Human will provide verbal interaction and exhibit non-verbal behavior and gestures to influence the Candidate. This experience will provide officer Candidates valuable guided practice to build leadership proficiency. Instructors will be able to use this environment to assess interpersonal communication skills taught in the Division Officer Leadership Course (DIVOLC). As a supplement to current training methods, LIFE-BOAT will improve officer performance and reduce the demands on training personnel.

Virtual Officer Leadership Trainer (VOLT)

In a project similar to INOTS, CCT has also partnered with ICT to develop the Virtual Officer Leadership Trainer (VOLT) for the US Army. Thousands of Second Lieutenants are trained per year, and many among those trained become Platoon Leaders. The Army defines leadership as the process of influencing people by providing purpose, direction, and motivation to accomplish a shared mission and continue improving the organization. The current leadership training for Second Lieutenants, however, prioritizes teaching combat tasks and tactical leadership with little emphasis on teaching interpersonal skills despite a specific and critical training need that emphasizes relationship building between the Platoon Leader and the Platoon Sergeant.

The ICT will create an immersive experience that will expose new Second Lieutenants to real life circumstances they will encounter when they assume command of a platoon. This immersive system will offer Junior Officers the opportunity to practice realistic verbal exchanges representative of known personnel issues with a Virtual Human Platoon Sergeant. Scenarios, based on cognitive task analysis interviews with experts, will be used to construct a simulated encounter at a high level of stress to accurately replicate a range of authentic human interaction experiences. Tough and relevant interpersonal incidents, such as assisting the Platoon Sergeant in resolving issues of Soldier suicide, legal trouble, financial burden, and domestic problems, will be presented to the Second Lieutenants. This experience will be followed by an After Action Review to enhance instructor facilitated small group discussion.

The research studies accompanying the design and development of VOLT holds promise to demonstrate the effectiveness and efficiency of virtual humans in simulated environments as a training resource, replacing expensive human role players and providing reliable instruction, practice, and guided reflection on demand.

Assessment of Tactical and Critical Thinking Skills

CCT continues to collaborate with the National Center for Research on Evaluation Standards and Student Testing (CRESST) at UCLA on assessment and assessment-based instruction in the context of interactive simulations and games.

Two new projects are beginning in January 2010, include Assessment of Tactical and Critical Thinking Skills, in which CCT researchers are collaborating with the senior research staff of CRESST to develop techniques for automatically assessing cognitive performance in the context of the a game-like planning tool, called the TAO Sandbox, which has been under development at CCT. The Sandbox is a specialized tool for planning surface tactics for Navy officers and for conducting research on adult learning and problem solving. This tool will be modified to produce micro- assessments when users take actions in a tactical problem and when critical events occur. More comprehensive automated assessments must also occur when users signal that they have completed a problem and/or when a problem times out. This work is expected to break new ground in assessing learning, not with conventional test questions, but by observing the details of student’s behavior in using a specialized software tool (the Sandbox) to solve complex problems.

Training Models and Tools for Advanced Learning

In this project, the Center will collaborate with CRESST to find principles and techniques for conducting assessment-centered instruction in simulation contexts. In addition, the TAO Sandbox will be extended to support additional types of Navy tactical problems, such as carrier group air defense, submarine escort planning, surface warfare, and others.