Fort Belvoir, Va., July 16, 2020 —
DCAA’s Defense Contract Audit Institute, like most educational institutions, closed its doors and ended in-person classes in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. No one was certain how long the closure would last, or what conditions would be required to reopen. Whatever the future held, one thing was certain - DCAA’s auditors need their education to continue.
While the Institute has online courses, most training is taught in a classroom because of the complex material that is best learned hands-on and through peer interaction. As soon as travel restrictions were enacted in March 2020, DCAI leadership set to work to provide virtual instructor-led training. Soon, instructors were becoming familiar with WebEx, the virtual course platform. During the initial sessions, instructors used each other as students so they could practice with the features of the software such as using breakout rooms, feedback buttons, and polling.
A Cost Accounting Standards class was selected to be the first virtual course because it primarily covers theory with scenario-based research exercises and was more readily translated into a virtual environment. A team of five instructors taught the first week-long class in early June. The teaming approach provided a lot of support as well as an opportunity for each instructor to get comfortable in the environment.
After first day jitters, all the instructors were very comfortable presenting and leading discussions in the virtual environment. The panels and feedback tools enhanced interaction with the students and created an engaging experience for the both the students and the instructors. Students appreciated WebEx’s raise hand function, green check mark, red "X", and various emoji’s used to respond to questions and confirm understanding. Other than the virtual environment, the design of the class had many similarities to a physical class room. “I was really happy with the outcome,” said instructor Jonna Lynn. “All of the students passed the exam with above average scores. To me, that is the evidence that they learned what was needed to master the concepts we taught.”
While there were some challenges, students also felt the class was a success, with one student stating, “I believe the online/interactive nature of this course kept me more engaged than an in person class would - especially since the instructors asked us to green check throughout the training.” Most of the students enjoyed the class. A second student stated “I would be comfortable taking another virtual course that is similar to CAS (more theory). I don't think I would like to take a virtual class for courses that are more hands on such as Data Analytics or Statistical Sampling.”
Virtual classes will certainly continue as long as the Institute must remain closed, and we expect it will continue to be a viable learning option, along with classroom training, for the future. Additionally, the course selection has expanded from the initial Cost Accounting Standards course and the Institute now offers a variety of audit and leadership courses.