26 February 2009

Interactive Field Manuals

There was a bit on NPR Monday morning about a trial of electronic textbooks at Northwestern Missouri State University. My initial reaction was unfavorable – I don’t really like reading large amounts on the computer screen and I really do like being able to mark up textbooks as I read them. But the story mentioned having embedded videos in the textbooks and that struck a chord of interest for me. When I was teaching at West Point, some colleagues and I worked on a project using short videos of example problems being worked to help engineering students learn. The feedback from the students was overwhelmingly positive and it appeared to improve their learning.

That has gotten me thinking about a similar idea for the Army’s Field Manuals. We’ve already gone to electronic versions of these manuals, but they are currently stale PDF files – the kind of files I don’t prefer to read on-line. I’d much rather have a hard copy of the manual. But what if we spiced up those electronic versions to make them something more than the hard copy, something that adds value to putting them on-line? Perhaps instead of having written vignettes, there could be a video that tells the story. Perhaps a video interview of key planners or leaders of operations explaining their thought process or lessons learned. Think of what this could do to the interest of reading manuals!

And another thought … take advantage of some of the Web 2.0 capabilities in the on-line manuals. Instead of creating downloadable files, make it a “living” document on the web. Users of the manual could leave comments at the end of each chapter (or maybe even “tag” their comments to a specific part of the manual. Users could post TTPs directly in the manual. This aspect may need to be vetted before their officially published to the on-line version to ensure accuracy and validity – this is something that the doctrine centers already do, just in a longer time frame.

Just some thoughts … what do you think? Would a more interactive field manual be of interest to you? Would you be more likely to use a manual of this type than the hard copy or current on-line versions? What else could we do to use current technology to make manuals better?

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