WASHINGTON (Army News Service, June 24, 2013) — By September, the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center in Monterey, Calif., will have switched its computer network from the “.mil” top-level-domain to the “.edu” top-level-domain.
The effort, ongoing now since 2011, is expected to help improve the efficiency of the language learning process at the school house.
A student’s use of time is affected by what domain he or she does their computing on, and is related to the security requirements in place on their computing network. The .mil top-level domain, or TLD, run by the military and part of the “Non-classified Internet Protocol Router Network,” or NIPRNET, is much more secure than most commercial networks. Those necessary security requirements sometimes make the use of specialty language-learning software and related hardware both difficult and time-consuming.
“Anyone who has ever studied a language knows that the more you practice, the faster you pick it up,” Jonathan Russell, the chief technology information officer at the school, wrote in an email. “We have precious little time, 26-64 weeks depending on the language, to get our students to a level of fluency equivalent to that of a master’s graduate from a civilian university, so time-on-task is vitally important.”
Students at the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center, or DLIFLC, currently have access to databases, dictionaries, keyboard font settings, speech recognition software, video platforms and flash card apps.
Those same students are also now using more mobile education technology, with students and teachers receiving iPads and a laptop. There are also now some 800 interactive whiteboards for use in classrooms. DLIFLC plans to eliminate the need for laptops and move completely to a mobile computing environment by fiscal year 2016.
Today, integrating both specialty software and portable hardware with the NIPRNET environment is difficult, Russell said. Software must be approved for Army-wide use before it can be installed. Even applications built at the DLIFLC must run the gamut of approval before deployment on NIPRNET-connected machines. And each piece of hardware must also be approved before connection to the military network.
Using the .edu network will eliminate some of those problems. Moving to an educational network will also increase bandwidth at DLIFLC, Russell said. And that is good for the mission.
The DLIFLC uses streaming video to bring both language and culture into the classroom, Russell said. Utilizing the educational network, students will also be able to shoot their own videos and upload them for homework assignments more easily.
The change to an .edu network has been occurring incrementally since 2011, when the DLIFLC conducted a pilot in order to assess if students could be more efficient on an academic network.
Students involved in the assessment reported they were more satisfied working on the .edu network. Russell said that on a network with different security requirements, students found they were able to do the same work in less time. They saved about 15 minutes of time per day, or nine class days per year.
The DLIFLC later received permission from the Department of the Army, Department of the Navy, the Defense Information Systems Agency and the Department of Defense to build a network optimized for language-learners, Russell said.
The Naval Postgraduate School helped the DLIFLC build their infrastructure, and since October 2012, 35 buildings have transitioned to the “.edu” domain. The remaining buildings on campus will be done by September 2013, Russell said.
NIPRNET NOT GOING AWAY
Students at DLIFLC will still be able to access the NIPRNET, Russell said, even after the school makes the transition to a mostly .edu network.
“Our students maintain their common access cards, mail.mil email addresses, and have full access to NIPRNET if they need it,” he said. “Once they leave DLI, they will be given a network account at their gaining command.”
Russell also said that sensitive or for-official-use-only information is going to remain on the NIPRNET. It will be activity related to the DLIFLC ‘s academics that moves to the .edu-based network.
The most affordable source for bandwidth for DLIFLC is to connect to the Corporation for Education Network Initiatives in California, which serves many colleges and universities in the state. Then, the DLIFLC can operate their network and optimize it without negatively affecting the important operational data being transmitted on NIPRNET, Russell said.
This change will save the Army money. The DLIFLC network was already due to be replaced when the project started in 2011. The current NIPRNET equipment will not need to be replaced because it will do better when the academic network is sharing the burden of Internet traffic.
“The DOD invests a great deal of money in educating DOD linguists, only a fraction of which is spent on technology,” Russell said. “By optimizing the IT infrastructure for language education, we improve the learning environment, thus improving outcomes.”
Russell said that if the changes improve the attrition rate at the school by as little as a half a percentage point over the next two years, “the project will have paid for itself.”