As the Navy increases in capabilities to support the joint force to meet the national security needs of the nation, one of the biggest challenges is to provide warfighting Sailors with more skill and experience as expeditiously as possible. The mission of the Center for Surface Combat Systems (CSCS) is to train and prepare officers and Sailors to maintain, operate and, if necessary, fight in a combat environment.
To achieve this mission, CSCS has been utilizing knowledge management (KM) methodologies to help deliver those warfighting skills to Sailors where they live and work, in their homeports, ships and schoolhouses.
Communities of practice (CoPs) are a key KM method to promote the sharing of information and knowledge. CSCS considers CoPs foundational to systems and warfare training effectiveness at almost every level.
"In order to educate and train both Sailors and officers, we must have a virtual environment where students, instructors and staff can connect," said CSCS Commanding Officer Capt. Stephen Hampton. "An environment where the fleet Sailors can reach out worldwide and be mentored in their specialties that will help Sailors grow both professionally and personally in less time."
The CSCS CoP is hosted on Navy Knowledge Online (NKO) and includes the individual rate/job communities that are taught by CSCS. Sailors use their specific community to ask subject matter experts questions, share information, learn from one another and immerse themselves in their technical rate's social framework. They benefit by sustaining relationships and sharing ways of doing things together. The rapid flow of information between Sailors allows innovative ideas to be quickly implemented.
A Sailor working aboard ship can ask an instructor a question regarding a technique or procedure that he or she is not familiar with. The instructor can then provide assistance to the Sailor, as well as others within the community, who may have the same question.
The CSCS CoP provides more than just easy access and flow of information. It's also a storehouse of training material that Sailors can use to prepare for required training, advancement exams or specific job qualifications which directly benefit Sailors and their workcenter.
The resources available range from open forums to additional study aids in the form of quizzes, games, videos and graphics. As Sailors connect with each other, they are able to share knowledge and learn from each other.
"Our CoP provides our students, as well as boatswain's mates (BM) fleetwide, with updated BM news and an open forum where anyone can ask rate-related questions," said Boatswain's Mate 1st Class (SW/AW) Adriane Christian, an instructor at Boatswain's Mate "A" School in Great Lakes, Ill. "We provide information vital to studying for exams and training videos that apply to our curriculum, as well as questions of the week, where I select random questions out of our training curriculum, and I post the correct answers the following week."
"I believe that the reason we are so successful in fostering the use of our CoP is because it lends itself to our community," said Fire Controlman "A" School Leading Chief Petty Officer, Fire Controlman Chief (SW) Miguel Guzman.
"One of the key ingredients of each CoP is the ability for the user to post questions and get an answer in a timely fashion. Users feel more at ease posting questions in a nonconfrontational arena."
Early in the development of the Navy's Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program, Reinhard Williams, training simulation manager for the CSCS technical support department, recognized communities of practice as the perfect communication tool. He made sure that an LCS CoP was developed and implemented aboard the Navy's newest ships that would take them into the 21st century.
"Communities of practice were ideal to establish a repository to share information about LCS," Williams said. "People working on this new ship program were dispersed throughout the United States. The LCS CoP became an essential communication tool. CSCS's CoP helped define the training requirements for the crew of the new LCS."
CoPs aren't just for apprentices. Journeyman and master Sailors in each rate use them for refresher training, technical information and learning tools. They are able to access online courses and content to assist in developing junior Sailors.
"For a CoP to be successful, members need to see the benefits to providing and sharing information," Williams added. "Most importantly, we need to generate enthusiasm within the community. Enthusiasm creates an environment where Sailors can gain and share knowledge and see the rewards."
For tomorrow, the Center for Surface Combat Systems envisions a collaborative Web-based environment where instructors can post course requirements, curriculum and data from course activity logs and then map them to enabling objectives and training objectives.
By having a well-based record of content for each course, students, instructors and fleet operators would reap the benefits. Instructors could manage their course content with little or no time delay. Fleet users could view information and provide feedback from a basis of understanding the core content requirement source, which, in turn, would improve training.
"The future of communities of practice is to continue providing relevant information to the right person, at the right time," said CSCS acting chief information officer Robert Stewart. "The bottom line is it should add value to your organization."
Figure 1 above shows how CoPs contribute to the CSCS Value Stream to advance continuous learning.
Today, there are CoPs for most of the courses or operations taught by CSCS. Apprentice-level CoPs available on NKO include: Electronics Technician (ET), Fire Controlman (FC), Gunner's Mate (GM), Interior Communications Electrician (IC), Mineman (MN), Operations Specialist/Quartermaster (OS/QM), Seaman/Apprenticeship Training Division (SN/ATD), Boatswain's Mate (BM) and Sonar Technician-Surface (STG).
To view the Center for Surface Combat Systems CoP visit https://wwwa.nko.navy.mil/portal/home/. For more information about CSCS visit https://www.netc.navy.mil/centers/cscs/.
Kimberly Lansdale is a training support specialist for the Center for Surface Combat Systems, Dahlgren, Va.