Navy Looks to Computer Game Feedback to Improve Boot Camp

Lt. Daniel Golde, Naval Service Training Command training and readiness officer, checks out a new crowd-sourcing website developed by NSTC and the U.S. Naval Academy to get fleet feedback. (Photo by Scott Thornbloom/U.S. Navy)
Lt. Daniel Golde, Naval Service Training Command training and readiness officer, checks out a new crowd-sourcing website developed by NSTC and the U.S. Naval Academy to get fleet feedback. (Photo by Scott Thornbloom/U.S. Navy)

Navy leaders are planning to evaluate the service's boot camp in Great Lakes, Illinois, for the first time in seven years -- and they're using input obtained from a computer game to do it.

Naval Service Training Command published an announcement this week soliciting participants for Recruit Reboot, a new interactive game that allows respondents to provide insights and suggestions in an anonymous forum.

The game was created using the so-called Massive Multiplayer Online War Game Leveraging the Internet, or MMOWGLI, platform, created by the Naval Postgraduate School. The platform was used last year to assess the Navy's officer training program, with over 750 participants from 11 countries contributing feedback, said Rear Adm. Stephen Evans, the commander of Naval Service Training School.

"We're not doing this because we think we have a problem," Evans told Military.com. "We're always looking for ways to improve."

The game allows participants to submit "idea cards" in categories including militarization, damage control, seamanship, personal financial development, policy, and watchstanding in order to highlight their opinions about areas for improvement. From there, users can manually enter their own ideas and built off of the ideas and feedback of other participants.

It's not a "sexy" gaming experience like Call of Duty or Halo, clarified Lt. Cmdr. Michael Keppen, director of training for NSTC. That's not what it's intended to be.

"A crowdsourcing tool that we can do online, using our Navy networks with a massive amount of people at the same time is really something that has never been done before," he said. "We're using this as an administrative tool to gather feedback in real time from all across the Navy."

When the Navy last evaluated its boot camp, the process involved time-consuming face-to-face meetings, and was slow and costly, officials said.

NSTC leaders hope the game will attract a wider swath of participants, and cut costs and processing time as well.

"The gamification piece is important," Keppen said. "We can send out a survey and get 20 percent [response rate]. But when you gamify it, it makes it fun."

Evans said the target "Recruit Reboot" participant is a sailor who graduated boot camp within the last 10 years. There is no quota, however, and the platform can support as many users as wish to participate. The game will be open from April 25 to May 13.

In gameplay, users can earn points by playing cards and by commenting on other users' cards. The player who earns the most points will receive a flag letter of commendation from Evans, good for one point towards rank advancement.

Each user will receive an anonymous username, and the platform won't track users' gender, unit, or rank -- only what part of the world they come from.

After the game is over and all the feedback is collected, the "idea cards" will be collated, Evans said. An enlisted board of advisers will be formed to review the data and isolate the ideas that got the most support from users, turning those into recommendations for how to change training. An executive steering committee will then vote on those recommendations in July, which will then put in motion the process to make the appropriate changes.

Evans declined to place limitations on how much impact these anonymous responses could have, saying he wanted to see the range of feedback first.

"As far as the scope and magnitude of change, I would want to see what the ideas cards came with," he said. "The feedback we're getting from the fleet is we're delivering a quality product to the fleet. They're very well trained.

--Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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