An innovative program is taking education at the Air Force School of Postgraduate Studies (SPS) in new and exciting directions.
CAPTION: Facilitators at the School of Postgraduate Studies Sergeant Rob McInnes, left, and Flight Sergeant James Oates, present a course component on the “Big Blue Button” platform. Story by Flight Lieutenant Julia Ravell.
For the first time, senior and junior aviators are learning alongside each other in the same classes in Program Wirraway.
With assessments expanded beyond written essays to cater to different learning styles and educational material available through online platform “The Runway”, the program encourages lifelong and blended learning though physical or virtual classes in COVID-safe conditions.
Program Wirraway was named after the World War II-era aircraft that has special significance for the Air Force as the first locally manufactured, mass-produced training aircraft.
The word “wirraway” is from the language of Victoria’s Wiradjuri Indigenous people and translates as “to challenge”.
Developed by SPS in partnership with the University of New England, the program’s professional learning continuum is being tested extensively and will achieve full operational capability in July next year.
Program Wirraway was the major reason why SPS won Air Force Training Group’s 2021 Sir Lawrence Wackett Trophy for Innovation.
Chief Instructor SPS Squadron Leader John Webb said the program played a key role in developing agile personnel capable of operating in rapidly changing and ambiguous environments.
“Traditionally, SPS courses would each be dedicated to particular rank levels and personnel learned what they had to, when they needed to, and only gained a broader understanding of the whole of Air Force as they were promoted,” Squadron Leader Webb said.
“Merging courses so airmen and women and officers learn together has taken the blinkers off.
“Both non-commissioned officers and junior officers are gaining a much more holistic understanding of each other’s roles and how they work in the broader organisation because they’re seeing that they face the same workplace challenges.
“Joining the courses promotes social mastery a lot earlier because course participants are hearing about the experiences of people from many different backgrounds.
“They’re networking and sharing knowledge with firefighters, aviation technicians and many different musterings, and it grounds their knowledge of the diversity of Air Force as an organisation by making explicit how structures and teams contribute to overall capacity.”
Squadron Leader Webb said Program Wirraway expanded flexible learning options so professional development effectively met contemporary needs.
“Previously, further study necessary for career progression got put on hold whenever personnel were posted overseas,” Squadron Leader Webb said.
“Blended learning means that courses that would once have been solely residential experiences can be delivered online and our guest presenters now include one stars and above from all over the world.
“Last year, we had a gentleman who was in the middle of his posting who stopped and pulled over to the side of the road somewhere between Brisbane and Townsville, pulled out his iPad and contributed to one of our classes.
“We’ve had students posted in England and the United States, as well as many others in remote locations, studying the Program Wirraway suite of courses.
“Next year, we’ll be aiming to fill course panels specifically with overseas-posted personnel so we can adjust our instructors’ hours to cater to time zone differences.
“Program Wirraway is ensuring our personnel have the requisite knowledge, skills, behaviours and attributes to enable the integrated and networked fifth-generation Air Force for Australia.”
Commanding Officer SPS Wing Commander Kerry Hollings said Program Wirraway was a comprehensive modernisation of the Professional Military Education and Training (P-MET) curriculum first designed 12 years ago.
“The program develops attributes in aviators that enable them to thrive in ambiguous and challenging environments,” Wing Commander Hollings said.
“There is more uncertainty under the current geopolitical environment than at any other time since the end of the Second World War.
“Program Wirraway courses develop aviators’ leadership and management style, emotional intelligence, adaptability, resilience, organisational understanding and communication skill sets.
“Students will gain a broad, contemporary understanding of Air Force strategy and learn how Air Force will contribute to the Joint Force through its strategic effects.”