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Connection in the classroom

Master Sgt. Monica Carranza fills in as team lead and introduces the guest speaker at an Informed Decision Seminar for Airman who are within 15 months of their current separation date Feb. 11, 2015, during the first trial of the virtual classroom at the Patrick Air Force Base, Fla. Carranza is assigned to the 45th Medical Group’s public health department. (U.S. Air Force photo/Matthew Jurgens)

Master Sgt. Monica Carranza fills in as team lead and introduces the guest speaker at an Informed Decision Seminar for Airman who are within 15 months of their current separation date Feb. 11, 2015, during the first trial of the virtual classroom at the Patrick Air Force Base, Fla. Carranza is assigned to the 45th Medical Group’s public health department. (U.S. Air Force photo/Matthew Jurgens)

Students attending virtually listen to the guest speaker during a Informed Decision Seminar at the professional development center Feb. 11, 2015, located at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla. The course is for students who are within 15 months of their current separation date. (U.S. Air Force photo/Matthew Jurgens)

Students attending virtually listen to the guest speaker during a Informed Decision Seminar at the professional development center Feb. 11, 2015, located at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla. The course is for students who are within 15 months of their current separation date. (U.S. Air Force photo/Matthew Jurgens)

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AFNS) -- The Patrick Air Force Base Professional Development Center (PDC) is not just a place for professional and leadership education, but as of Feb. 11, it's the most technically advanced professional development center in the Air Force.

Using iPads instead of paper and styluses instead of pens, the development center equips their students with leadership tools and experiences without purchasing a single sheet of paper. With the recent addition of virtual communications apps like Skype and FaceTime, students can attend classes from anywhere saving the Air Force and the Airmen, time and money.

The first trial of this virtual classroom offers students the opportunity to take professional development classes using their own virtual communication devices from almost anywhere. Students who use the virtual classroom can participate in classes and receive the same leadership knowledge and skills as their physically present counterparts.

According to Master Sgt. Ted Byerly, the Patrick AFB Airman Leadership School commandant, since going paperless the PDC has saved around $10,000 a year. Byerly estimates going virtual will have even higher savings for the entire Air Force.

"TDYs are about $300 to $500 for a one-day class depending on the distance of travel,” he said. “A one-week class would be about $700 to $1,000 a person. We could save the Air Force $125,000 a year if we ran just eight (virtual) classes, and the potential is even greater considering we have 52 iPads."

One of the strongest advocates for the program is Chief Master Sgt. Craig Neri, the 45th Space Wing command chief.

"In financially strapped times such as these, switching to 'virtual classrooms' comes as a good solution," Neri said. "Using the latest technology, our professional development center team continues to employ efficient, cost-saving methods to not only make us more efficient but also increase capability. Examples like this are why they are the 2013 Air Force Professional Development Center of the Year and the 2014 Air Force Space Command nominee as well."

Master Sgt. Jennifer Martinez, the 45th SW career assistance advisor, came up with the idea of creating a virtual classroom.

"I was told that several personnel assigned at remote locations could not attend our courses due to lack of funding,” Martinez said. “I knew we had the capability to provide these services virtually and wanted to ensure everyone received the same professional enhancement opportunities as those assigned to Patrick AFB, especially at locations without bases or Air Force personnel to mentor or provide onsite professional development opportunities.

"It is very exciting to see how the advanced technology provided by the 45th Space Wing is going to enable our Airmen to grow and become phenomenal leaders in the Air Force,” she said. “Everyone should have an opportunity to take leadership skills courses and professional enhancement seminars without being hindered due to their assigned duty location. These opportunities are vital to the success of our future leaders."

The courses that will be offered virtually are the First Term Airman Course, NCO Enhancement Seminar, Informed Decision Seminar, and all professional development courses that provide supervisory, leadership, management, mentorship and teambuilding training.

Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and civilians, to include those in the Reserve and Guard, who are interested in attending classes virtually from any remote location, or their assigned duty location, will be able to attend professional development enhance opportunities at the 45th SW Professional Development Center.

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