March 2020 Newsletter

March 2020 Newsletter

Since our last newsletter, the world has changed dramatically. Schools and universities have shut down across the United States, people are being asked to work from home, hospital workers, already stretched thin, will have to rapidly acquire new skills such as donning protective gear and operating ventilators (assuming that they will eventually get access to ventilators).

ShadowBox is hoping to do our part to provide support during this crises. We are responding to requests from different sectors of society to apply the ShadowBox technology for distance learning, so that training can be conducted in homes instead of classrooms. We also are responding to requests about using ShadowBox to quickly up-skill workers by providing the cognitive skills needed to accomplish new kinds of job requirements.

Learning by experience can take too long when faced with fast-paced changes, and the ShadowBox tools (the scenario version, the Snapshot version, and the Cue Detect version) have been refined for more than five years to speed up the learning curve – perhaps in service of flattening the infection curve. Therefore, we are exploring ways we can help provide training to frontline responders as they continue the fight against COVID-19.

We are excited to be able to share our most recent news with you. ShadowBox has recently completed some projects and started up some new ones. Read on to learn more about who we are and what we’ve been up to. We want you to ask yourself how you can grow your organization’s training programs with ShadowBox.

ShadowBox's Mission, Vision and Provision

Have you ever wondered what a police officer, child welfare investigator, and petrochemical plant operator have in common? While these professions differ greatly in their responsibilities and contributions, they share a fundamental commonality. They rely on their cognitive skills every single day! Cognitive skills are evident in how these professionals make decision, prioritize, and assess risk.

The world needs people who are more sensitized to the cognitive dimension. That’s why we’re so passionate about what we do. We train the trainers, so that your new employees receive onboarding that doesn’t feel like training. Our training is derived from the experts, without the experts having to be there! We believe in flexibility in training, and ShadowBox can be delivered remotely or in person.

Child Welfare Worker Training

The end of 2019 marked the conclusion of a 5-year collaboration between the Annie E. Casey Foundation and ShadowBox. We’d like to thank all of the dedicated staff from the Casey Foundation who poured a substantial amount of effort into the project. From this collaboration, we’ve developed the ShadowBox Startup Pack ™ for child welfare agencies. Included in this training package is everything the organization needs to know about what ShadowBox training is, the benefits ShadowBox can provide, as well as how to implement ShadowBox within the organization. 23 ShadowBox scenarios are the cornerstone of the Startup Pack ™. Our scenarios are designed to simulate the multifaceted situations and critical thinkings skills a child welfare investigator experiences daily. The scenarios also provide learners with insights into how a panel of child welfare experts (or "skilled practitioners") thought through that very same scenario. Across Ohio, child welfare organizations are beginning to take interest in our training. Contact us at to receive free introductory materials to the Startup Pack ™. Included at the end of this newsletter is an excerpt from a ShadowBox scenario. See how your response lines up with the expert panel's!

A New Training Modality: Video

We have completed our first feature length instructional training video. This video was the result of a fruitful collaboration with the Center for Operator Performance, following the development of the Cognitive After-Action Review Guide for Observers (CAARGO). This instructional video utilizes CAARGO in order to train the trainer. It provides exercises for trainers to test their knowledge of CAARGO concepts and practice using these skills, as well as tools they need to offer more effective and personal training methods to their trainees. This is accomplished by changing the trainers’ mindset to be more sensitized to the cognitive dimension. Check out the “wallet-sized” version below.

Figure 1: The CAARGO "wallet-sized" tool-kit

The full series of videos is designed to help trainers shift their training mindsets to adopt more effective training styles. The videos highlight multiple mindset shifts. They showcase unproductive behaviors and mindsets sometimes exhibited by trainers, as well as examples of more effective training styles. Below is a still image from the video, in which ShadowBox Project Champion and NOVA Chemicals trainer Ron Besuijen demonstrates how to have a “Curious” mindset as a trainer during a typical whiteboard training exercise.

Stratagems Training

In collaboration with Stottler Henke Associates, Inc., the ShadowBox team recently completed a successful two-year project funded by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratories to develop a game-based trainer to support cognitive skills training for Combat Search and Rescue aircrew. The resulting Stratagems trainer incorporates the ShadowBox technique of querying trainees about their priorities, assessment of risk, and decision making during key mission points – all in the context of an immersive, dynamic game experience. During an after-action review, trainees can see how their decisions throughout the scenario compared with a panel of experienced aircrew. The Stratagems trainer features scenario branching, so that each scenario unfolds differently based on trainee decisions at critical moments. The Stratagems trainer includes an innovative scenario authoring tool, designed to support aircrew instructors in developing their own training scenarios to address emerging threats, changing mission contexts, and new capabilities. We are currently looking for ways to incorporate Stratagems into aircrew training, and extend this game-based ShadowBox training approach to other domains.

Future Projects

ShadowBox is preparing a pilot study training course for law enforcement. This training will be designed to improve the tactical decision-making skills of novice police officers. The scenario-based training will focus on real world situations officers face daily – which are often filled with ambiguity, uncertainty, unpredictability, changeability, time-pressure, competing/changing goals, and potential danger. We're looking forward to sharing developments we progress. And this course is designed to be presented online. The distance-learning capability is of particular interest to our sponsor right now, because it means that the training won't require group sessions, and because most of the existing training has been curtailed during the COVID-19 crises.

Example Decision Point

As an illustration of ShadowBox, we include the following excerpt of a scenario and decision point in which the worker investigates a hotline report of a suspicious head injury on 2-month-old Monty. This excerpt includes one scenario segment, one decision point, and one expert rationale the trainee could draw insight from. Most scenarios include five decision points.

“It is the Friday before a three-day holiday weekend. You receive a report from the hotline which was called in by Children’s Hospital ER staff concerning Monty, age two months. Monty’s mother, Amelia, and grandmother, Karen, brought Monty to the ER last night at 9 PM with concerns about a grape-sized bump on his head. An X-ray revealed that Monty suffered a skull fracture, prompting the pediatrician to call in the report to your agency’s hotline. The hospital indicated that they would keep Monty overnight (last night) for observation.

You attempt to access the family’s history with your agency before going to the hospital. Unfortunately, the case database is down this morning for maintenance, so no information is available about this family.

You arrive at Children’s Hospital and meet the family -- Karen, 48, and Amelia, 28, along with Monty’s two older siblings, Tony (age seven) and Sasha (age five). The scene is very chaotic, and the family is anxious to leave the hospital with Monty having heard some reassurances from the ER that he is in stable condition. Monty’s nurse confirms that Monty’s condition is stable, and that the pediatrician wants to run some additional tests before discharging him later today. Additionally, the doctor would like to see him again in a few days to assess the healing of the injury.

You tell Amelia and Karen that you would like to speak with each of them privately. Grandmother Karen quickly responds, “well, there’s not much to tell you, but we can talk first.” After Amelia and the kids leave the room, she says that she was holding Monty while she fed him last night when she noticed a bump on his head. The family then brought him to the ER. Karen keeps repeating that the family took action to bring Monty to the ER as soon as Karen noticed the bump—therefore proof that they did nothing wrong. She says that she is nervous because she’s never had contact with your agency before and she doesn’t want her grandkids to get taken away. You clarify that the purpose of your visit is to make sure Monty is safe.

You ask a series of background questions about the home and childcare. Karen reports that she is retired and her daughter, Amelia, recently moved in with her. Amelia works at night, and Karen watches the children at night while Amelia works. During the day, Karen and Amelia share responsibility for feeding Monty and changing his diapers. When asked, she says there are no problems with drugs or alcohol in the family.”

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