Tablets for Theory and Practice of Intelligence

My course was SEST 521 (The Theory and Practice of Intelligence) within the Security Studies Program in SFS. The class is capped at 18; this particular iteration had 16 students, drawn from a variety of backgrounds. Some of the students are in the joint BSFS/MA program, others are currently working in the intelligence community, while still others would like to use the MA degree in security studies to gain employment in the intelligence community. The range of knowledge began with no experience of intelligence to very expert.

The intelligence community is currently changing over to a greater use of tablets in its work process, even using them to brief the president in place of the old paper files and binders. My thinking was students would benefit greatly by becoming accustomed to this method and incorporating into their daily work. Most have had exposure to this type of technology before but we tried to recreate some of the constraints that an analyst would face in using the tablet. By using a simulation to explore some of these issues, I was also hoping to advance the technology used simulations. Prior to this, I had generally passed out old declassified memos to the class. The technology was intended to speed up the process of the delivery of information, making the simulation much more realistic.

I wanted to speed up the process of information acquisition in the simulation through use of the technology. While the simulation is still in beta test, ideally the technology would allow us to bombard students through continuous flows of multimedia information, much like they would receive in the workplace. I wanted them to have to interpret videos, interviews, and photos in addition to the more traditional written wire cable. The concept was to enhance their learning by pushing the skills of engagement, integration, and synthesis. The technology was used to press upon this inflexion point.

My data from this simulation was preliminary – as I mentioned, we ran it for the first time in this class. Students found the tablets helpful for the tasks but I think in order for the technology to be completely useful, we would need to advance the information flows quite a bit. That is, really focus even more on the multimedia aspect and increase the volume. As it stands, we were seeing how the information injects could be incorporated in the broader exercise and thus didn’t push the flows to excess. That would be the next step. Students were comfortable with the technology, felt that it complemented the simulation, and overall were positive in its use. If anything, these students are almost too comfortable with technology for us to challenge them at the more basic levels. We would need to increase the complexity and the flows to challenge them – or overwhelm them with information, as was the initial goal of the simulation. In this case, the technology would have a profound effect.

Again, I would advance the level of information flows if I were to teach this class again. I think the technology really helped the simulation work very well, and now would want to intensify that experience by increasing the flows, adding in new software, etc. In terms of other faculty, many who teach about intelligence and security issues rely on simulations as they provide a “real world” look at some of the work the students will do in their careers. Generating a template using the technology and changing out the stories and injects could help create a small library of simulations that would be incredibly useful to faculty. This is particularly aided by the fact that we can borrow the IPads from the library. That was incredibly helpful. The simulation at this stage was basic enough that I didn’t encounter any significant challenges and the library and CNDLS staff were always incredibly helpful if there were any complications.