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Scholarly Growth

During Command and General Staff College



Looking back to Fall 2020, if someone predicted I would spend the academic year obtaining another master’s degree, my eyes would have rolled. Having only earned my PhD in 2019, the thought of writing a thesis was less than appealing. After all, who starts a master’s degree after completing a PhD? I do!

My selection to attend the year-long resident course of the Army’s Command and General Staff College (CGSC) came as a surprise. I was just getting my bearings as a new scientist, and the thought of stepping away from research for a year caused uncertainty. That feeling of uncertainty increased as I read through the CGSC welcome materials and completed the preparatory course which refamiliarizes students with the basics of maneuver operations, providing a foundation for the year’s curriculum. I felt immediately out of place as the content was not a refresher, but a foreshadow of how little I understood the operational side of the Army.

From the comfort of my home office (thanks to COVID-19), I logged in to the welcome brief kicking off the official start of the academic year. The leadership of the college discussed the two ways in which students could graduate with a master’s degree: successfully complete the curriculum as designed to earn a Master of Operational Science (MOS), or complete the curriculum as designed along with research classes (counting toward electives) and a thesis to earn a Master of Military Art and Science (MMAS). Initially, I had no intention of completing the MMAS. Toward the end of the welcome brief a faculty member introduced a scholar’s program offered during the second half of the year, which caught my attention. A prerequisite to apply for the program was enrollment in the MMAS track. I sat with all this information for about 24 hours before choosing to apply for the scholar’s program and begin forming ideas for the MMAS thesis.


Selecting the Topic

Study ideas float through my mind constantly and being amid a global pandemic offers numerous topics. However, I made a conscious decision to not focus on military medicine. The reason was twofold: the lack of CGSC faculty with the medical expertise necessary to guide and mentor; and the desire to read a new body of literature. As a scientist, the hours of searching for literature can seem daunting. Perfect search terms, narrowing timeframes, accessing peer-reviewed content, all in the hopes an article meets your needs. Little did I know I had found a perfect article about a month before it would become the base for my next study.


In August 2020, I came across a document written by the Joint Chiefs of Staff titled Developing Today’s Joint Officers for Tomorrow’s Ways of War: The Joint Chiefs of Staff Vision and Guidance for Professional Military Education & Talent Management [1]. The Joint Chiefs stated creativity has not historically been an area of focus in Professional Military Education (PME) but is a skill necessary for success in future operations. Initially, I thought creativity was counter to what the military as a domain found valuable. Uniformity and adherence to doctrine was my experience in the PME environment, which made me wonder if this was the same for most senior levels of PME. From there, I began to think about how I could explore creativity within the US Army War College (USAWC) to better understand how the Army’s strategic leaders are developing their creative skills.


Study Description

The purpose of this study was to better understand the manifestation of creativity within the curriculum of the USAWC from the perspective of the faculty interacting with the curriculum. Mezirow’s transformative learning theory [2] gave the study a foundation for examining creativity in the context of adult education. To think about creativity and analyze qualitative data, I used a model based on the interaction between individuals, the field, and the larger domain [3]. I framed creativity within a system consisting of the Army as a domain, a field of experts in USAWC faculty, and individual USAWC students.


Research question: The study’s primary research question is: How do faculty describe creativity in the United States Army War College (USAWC) curriculum? To help answer this question, the study’s secondary questions focused on the ways in which the USAWC curriculum currently emphasizes[MMP1] creativity, the assessment of creativity, and the perceptions of USAWC faculty on the program’s ability to develop creativity in its students.


Defining Creativity: While reviewing the literature, the definition of creativity would change depending on the discipline or context of studies. However, the outcome being novel and appropriate were common themes across many definitions. For this study, creativity was defined as a higher-order ability manifested in a creative outcome (i.e., product, performance, idea, solution) that is novel, appropriate, and of high quality [4].

Methods: I conducted a bounded case study consisting of USAWC faculty. This study was about the individual’s experiences with the USAWC curriculum, therefore purposive, non-random sampling was used to recruit participants [5]. For inclusion, the faculty had to provide direct instruction of either core or elective material to USAWC students attending the resident course within the last year. Bounding the case by time and location (resident course) ensured participants referenced the same curriculum during interviews. Overall, seven participants were interviewed, and the data analyzed through three rounds of coding. Provisional codes came from the individual-field-domain model [3] used as an analytic framework. Data triangulation occurred between the literature, participant interviews, and curriculum documents shared by participants.

Findings

The faculty participants described creativity as a systemic process consisting of skills that can be enhanced within a Professional Military Education (PME) environment. Overall, this study found a misalignment in the system when defining, assessing, and assigning value to creativity. Participant interviews highlight three main reasons for the misalignment. First, there is a system-driven pedagogy heavily influenced by the focus on curriculum topics over outcomes. The USAWC curriculum does not specifically focus on creativity, but faculty find ways to infuse creativity into their classrooms. Second, like the Army as a larger domain, the PME environment perpetuates a culture of accountability through formal assessments focusing on what the Army deems to be of value for PME graduates. However, creativity is not formally assessed within the USAWC curriculum. This finding is not surprising given the lack of focus on creativity’s importance as a skill [1]. Faculty who participated in the study do value creativity and discussed ways in which they evaluate creativity without a formal rubric. The final reason for the system’s misalignment is inconsistent language across doctrine (Figure 1.) when discussing and defining creativity.

 

Figure 1: Creativity Across US Army Doctrine

· Creativity: Ideas and objects that are both novel and appropriate. (ADP 6-22)

· Innovation: Ability to introduce or implement something new. (ADP 6-22)

· Willingness: To accept change and apply a flexible outlook for new ideas or possibilities. (FM 6-22)

· Creative Thinking: New and useful ideas. Reevaluates or combines old ideas to solve problems. (ADP 5-0)

· Promote and reward mental agility, the ability to break from established paradigms, recognize new patterns or circumstances, and adopt new solutions to problems. (AR 600-100)

· Being innovative requires creative thinking that uses both adaptive (drawing from expertise and prior knowledge) and innovative approaches (developing completely new ideas). (ADP 6-22)


Recommended Definition of Creativity

The process of purposefully generating new or original ideas, insights, or objects that are contextually appropriate and recognized in the domain as valuable, which may be achieved by combining or transforming existing products.

 

From the study’s results, I offer three recommendations. First, creativity’s definition must be clear and consistent across all doctrine. See Figure 1 for my Recommended Definition of Creativity. Second, the curriculum should move to an outcomes-based approach. Objectives for learning need to go beyond analyze to outcomes such as create or design. Third, the accountability culture of the Army will remain constant. Therefore, student evaluation must recognize and value creativity.


Unexpected Impact

With creativity being a softer skill that is hard to quantify, I did not expect this topic to be of interest. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the generation of excitement among CGSC and USAWC faculty. The decision to conduct this study led to unexpected opportunities. I had a wonderful thesis committee who championed my work across CGSC, the Civilian Education System at Fort Leavenworth, and the Army University. Through my committee, I was able to spend an hour with the Commanding General of Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) discussing the study and creativity’s place within PME. He requested a proposed definition of creativity for doctrine writers, as well as a high-level model the Army University could use to begin integrating the topic of creativity into faculty development.


The results of this study, my continued interest in creativity, and my scholarly ability have led to my inclusion in a proposal for a creativity study within CGSC. This proposal, still in review, allowed me to work on a collegial level with CGSC faculty, as well as a connection to Dr. Angus Fletcher­, professor of Story Science at Ohio State’s Project Narrative. Dr. Fletcher continues to share my work. I am also engaged in discussions with Peter Singer, CGSC faculty, and futurists at TRADOC G2, to incorporate Fictional Intelligence into PME to think about the future of plausible war.


Lessons Learned as a Young Scientist

The CGSC curriculum focuses heavily on maneuver operations. My peers within the classroom were sharpening tactical and operational skills already possessed from serving more than a decade in infantry, armor, aviation, or other combat service support occupations. At times, I felt overwhelmed when immersed in the maneuver curriculum. Over the last academic year, I looked forward to research because I understood it. Like my peers, I was enhancing existing skills and knowledge—just not about tanks or operations planning. Having a PhD did make conducting this study enjoyable since the cognitive load on how to do research was reduced. I enjoyed a collegial relationship with my committee.


I learned a few things as a young scientist. First, the steps of research mirror the steps of the Military Decision-Making Process (MDMP). Additionally, due to my doctoral training, my way of thinking about new information is not at the tactical level. I am making connections to concepts in a broad operational and strategic manner. This was how I made sense of the curriculum. By going through the MMAS program, I realize that my research skillset has the potential to impact the Army beyond the medical field.


Conclusion

The 2020-2021 academic year at CGSC was both challenging and rewarding. Even though I was not selected for the CGSC scholar’s program, I gained an opportunity to prove my scholarly ability. I never imagined the decision to participate in the MMAS track would lead to such wonderful connections and a potential to impact officer development and the future of the Army. If you are interested in the full study and results, published in How Creativity is Integrated Into the United States Army War College Curriculum as Told by Faculty: A Qualitative Case Study, email angela.b.samosorn.mil@mail.mil.




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