Dr. John Deaton designs for peace


Deaton works on VECTOR (Virtual Environment Cultural Training for Operational Readiness), sponsored by the Army Research Institute. VECTOR was developed to aid U.S. forces with cultural understanding in foreign coutries.

The job starts with building trust. And trust isn't always easy amid potential cultural misunderstandings and war-time fears. Behavioral training is key--training that begins 8,000 miles away at Florida Tech.

Dr. John Deaton, Florida Tech associate professor in the School of Aeronautics, draws upon a 32-year, experience-packed career to do his part. He's a psychologist, teacher, theologian, third-degree black belt in karate and human factors specialist. He's also a former U.S. Navy commander, pilot, and astronaut program semifinalist. Deaton draws on all these experiences to help troops in Iraq avoid cultural pitfalls through his contributions to a cutting-edge training tool.

This fall, Deaton began his fourth year of work on VECTOR (Virtual Environment Cultural Training for Operational Readiness), sponsored by the Army Research Institute. A product of CHI Systems, Inc., VECTOR was developed to aid U.S. forces in foreign countries. Deaton worked for CHI before arriving at Florida Tech in 2001.

Currently a prototype, VECTOR is an interactive video game, playable on a laptop computer. In several simulated Iraqi village scenarios, the game characters in typical Muslim dress create challenging situations to which the trainee responds. The scenario plays out according to the trainee's cultural skills just as would happen in real life. The interactions teach appropriate behavior in a variety of potential situations.

For example, when an Iraqi woman answers the door to an American soldier, the soldier learns that he doesn't ask specific information of the woman, but must request her husband or other male. Or, an American soldier seeking information from an Iraqi male finds he must be sensitive first to the Iraqi's request for goods in trade.

Deaton, a former aerospace experimental psychologist, was the cultural subject matter expert who developed the scenarios and scripted the voice dialogues. Currently completing a master's degree in theology from Loyola University, Deaton also has Islamic culture expertise and has included the Islamic community in several interfaith meetings he has coordinated. He also designed the performance metrics to assess VECTOR's training effectiveness.

As Florida Tech's only aviation human factors instructor, Deaton is also director of the Human Factors Center and Space Coast Center for Human Factors Research. He teaches a full course load and the entire master's program curriculum in the human factors specialty. He also mentors students, serves on committees and secures program funding.

Human Factors is the largest master's degree program in the School of Aeronautics. About 30 students are currently enrolled. Deaton's human factors background will serve him well as he and his graduate students conduct research to learn how VECTOR training compares to existing training. Currently, troops can learn only from manuals.

"It is our hypothesis that given the realism and engagement afforded by our training system, that trainees will learn more quickly and effectively the cultural differences of most importance to them as peacekeepers," said Deaton.

In summer 2004 House Armed Services Committee Reps. Steve Israel and Ike Skelton saw a demonstration of VECTOR. "They were quite excited about it," said Deaton. Their support can lead to the next step, finalizing the prototype and quickly making it available for operational use.

"Unfortunately," said Deaton, "the need for this training technology won't be going away any time soon."

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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