Sept. 5, 2023
I was a little surprised when Ed Bundy asked about using my MIDAS assessment to understand the MI profiles of bomb technicians-in-training. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it made sense because I’d already profiled pilots, firefighters, police, law students, artists, dancers, musicians and many other professionals. We found very distinctive and common-sense differences in their MI strengths and limitations. I was skeptical when Ed said he wanted to determine if there were measurable differences in the profiles of successful vs. unsuccessful technicians-in-training. These candidates would have already been carefully screened prior to their admission to this very expensive and intensive training program so their differences might be too subtle to measure by questionnaire. I was hopeful that the 26 MIDAS subscales that measure specific skills within each intelligence would be helpful but it seemed like a long shot. Could the theory of multiple intelligences really discriminate between people with and without the skills to become bomb disposal technicians? It was a very interesting question that I eagerly devoted many hours working with Ed to investigate.
I hope you enjoy reading his description of this research and development project. It represents a collaboration between researchers and practitioners at the highest level. At least it does until the end when you can almost hear the BOOM. Does this remind of you other times and places where MI was tried?
“We’re going to put this in the ‘too hard’ category.”
MI in the Real World
by Dr. Ed Bundy
I should start this article by stating that I am a bomb technician. Perhaps more accurately, I should say I used to be a bomb technician, and as a colleague from New Hampshire who is a current bomb squad commander likes to say, “I am a pracademic, not an academic.” Despite having a Ph.D. in Education, and another in Forensic Science, I remain a bomb technician at heart, and continue to serve the community as a government program manager doing advanced technology development for the global bomb disposal community. What does that have to do with MI you might ask? Well that is the starting point for my story…
In 1984, shortly after Howard Gardner published Frames of Mind (Gardner, 1983), I wandered into the world of all-things-explosives, and have never looked back. After a short stint with a state regulatory agency, where I was required to become a Certified Blaster, I entered law enforcement, and found myself on the periphery of working with bomb technicians on cases involving subversive groups making homemade bombs and explosives. After deciding law enforcement was not where I wanted to remain for the rest of my working life, I joined the Army and quickly found myself in training to become an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) technician; in other words, a bomb technician. The attrition rate at EOD School has always been notoriously high, averaging anywhere from thirty to sixty percent. At the time I was going through school however, it was at the top end of this scale, and I remember sitting in my first class and the Class Proctor, a Navy Chief, saying, “Look to your left and right. Odds are the people sitting next to you will not be with you by the time you finish this school.” And the instructor was right, after every test, whether written or practical, fewer and fewer students remained. Even at this juncture, I found myself wondering why some students, who were clearly more intellectually astute than others, failed out of the school, while many less gifted students remained.
Fast-forward 6 years after graduating from EOD School, and I found myself back at the school as an instructor. Now on the other side of the fence, I was convinced that I would uncover the mystery of why some students who seemed intellectually well-suited to the job of being a bomb technician, didn’t survive training (please…in the academic sense). After several years as an instructor however, I found myself no closer to discovering the nature of the problem than I was as a student. Naturally I did what I considered the most rational thing I could do at the time, and that was deciding to pursue a Master’s in Education because surely, an advanced degree would lift the veil from my eyes, and provide me with the answers I so longed for. Alas I found no easy answers there either, but in one of my courses, I was introduced to the theory of multiple-intelligences. MI resonated with me immediately, and after devouring as many of books, and as much literature on MI as was available at the time, I felt like I was on the precipice of understanding what might be the underlying cause of what I had started referring to as “The EOD School Attrition Phenomena.”
The problem as I saw it was this…there were three basic requirements to be admitted to EOD School training, irrespective of the military branch to which you belonged. First, you had to be a volunteer, because nobody wants to work next to someone being forced to defuse a bomb; next, you had to have a General Technical (GT) score of 110 on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, a generalized instrument meant to determine vocational potential; and finally, you had to do what was call an “EOD Interview.” The EOD Interview consisted of nothing more than an individual wanting to be a bomb technician simply going to an active EOD unit and talking to current EOD technicians, which on the surface might seem like a trivial matter. This interview, irrespective of where you went in the world (literally), carried more weight in the minds of current and former bomb technicians, than all the assessment instruments and strategies used by various countries across the globe. In short, this was considered a “universal test” for acceptance, at least by those in the EOD community, and the rationale I heard time-and-time-again for this weightiness was, “bomb technicians recognize their own.” This prompted me to ask myself, was there any truth to this? Were there a set of attributes or qualities…intelligences if you will…that might make one person better suited for bomb disposal than another? If so, could this set of intelligences be identified? Unfortunately, another move was in my future before I could explore this now nagging thought that maybe there is some truth to the belief that “We recognize our own.”
Shortly before finishing my Master’s, I transitioned out of the Army and moved to College Station Texas, where I helped stand up an Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) training program for the Texas Engineering Extension Service at Texas A&M University. While at Texas A&M I had an opportunity to work with some very progressive educators, and decided that a Ph.D. in Education was probably in my future. My original plan was to do a brick-and-mortar program at Texas A&M, but after talking to several colleagues who had earned their Education degrees at A&M, and explaining that I wanted to focus my research on the somewhat crazy notion that it might be possible to identify some set of cognitive characteristics that made one better suited for bomb disposal than someone who lacked those characteristics, I was told in no uncertain terms that I was delusional. Opting for a less traditionally-focused program through Capella University, I was eventually able to pursue this as my research topic, and this is where the real story begins…
During my coursework at Capella, I was laser-focused on identifying the cognitive qualities and characteristics that might simply make one individual more suitable for bomb disposal than another. This brought me squarely back to MI theory, and its underpinnings. One of the things that resonated with me the most about MI theory, was Gardner’s definition of intelligence, which he stated as “The ability to solve problems, or to fashion products, that are valued in one or more cultures or communities.” (Gardner, 1993). Like Sternberg’s triarchic theory of intelligence (Sternberg, 1985), which suggests that intelligence goes beyond computational ability, MI went beyond Binet’s classic definitions of intelligence, and added a dimension that required success on an analytical, creative, and practical level.
As stated by Sternberg and Grigorenko (1997), “To be successfully intelligent is to think well in three different ways: analytically, creatively, and practically.” In the mind of a young(ish) Ph.D. student, this seemed to be the very definition of what was required cognitively to be bomb technicians, and if you add to this a touch of what Armstrong (1994) believed to be a necessary quality of intelligence, which is “The ability to respond successfully to new situation and the capacity to learn from one’s past experiences…,” this epitomizes the bomb disposal career field, which by its very nature, is dependent on the evaluation of hazards, and the analysis of uncategorized and unconstrained information for creative problem solving. A bomb technician’s world, to use Armstrong’s words, is all about “the context, the tasks, and the demands that life presents to us and not on an IQ score, a college degree, or a prestigious reputation.”
As often occurs during doctoral work related to learning, I struggled with what seemed to me to be somewhat of an artificial distinction between intelligence strengths and learning style preferences, feeling that the two were inextricably linked. Even this blog’s host noted all those many years ago, that educators often treat MI as being synonymous with learning styles and vice versa (Shearer, 2004). Ultimately I ended up heeded the words of Lane (2000), who stated, “It is tempting to equate learning styles and intelligences because there are similarities, but until we have a much better understanding of both, it is best to avoid mixing the models” and made the distinction between learning style preferences and MI by using Gardner’s definition of MI, the “biopsychological potential to process information that can be activated in a cultural setting to solve problems or create products that are of value in a culture” (Gardner, 1999), and Merriam and Caffarella’s definition of learning style, which is “an individual’s characteristic way of processing information, feeling, and behaving in learning situations” (Merriam, & Caffarella, 1991).
Not to be deterred, in 2005 I concluded my research on the extent to which individual learning style preferences and intelligence strengths were common to individuals in the bomb disposal profession, and in 2006, received my degree. Again, the foundational premise of the research was that bomb technicians were believed, by individuals within the profession, to have identifiable traits that made them well-suited to be bomb technicians. If this were true, it would follow then that there are certain types of individuals that would gravitate to bomb disposal, and that would be able to pick up the skills necessary to be successful at the job, more quickly than others. To test this, I offered the following null hypotheses: “There is no significant difference in learning style preferences or intelligences between bomb disposal technicians based on age, ethnicity, gender, prior level of education, rank, bomb disposal school attended, year attended bomb disposal school, or years of experience,” and “There is no significant difference in learning style preferences or intelligences between military explosive ordnance disposal technicians and public safety bomb technicians, or bomb disposal technicians of different nationalities.”
To identify potential commonalities, and variances, I used two instruments: the first measuring learning style preferences, and the other intelligence strengths. To measure learning style preferences, I used the Canfield Learning Style Inventory (Canfield, 2000), and the Multiple Intelligences Developmental Assessment Scales (Shearer, 1996) to measure multiple intelligence strengths. Additionally I looked at ways in which learning styles preferences and/or multiple intelligence strengths differed among bomb technicians in relation to age, race, and gender; the relationship between learning styles preferences and/or multiple intelligence strengths and rank, years of service as a bomb disposal technician, and/or level of education; and the correlations that existed between the bomb disposal school from which the technician graduated, the year of graduation, and learning styles preference or multiple intelligence strengths. In total, I gathered data from a group of 100 current and former bomb technicians from 14 different countries, and between the two instruments 10 demographic variables, 8 intelligence strengths, and 17 learning style preferences were examined, covering 250 different individual characteristics.
While 16 of the 250 dimensions (6.4 %) showed statistically significant differences, overall similarities between intelligence strengths and learning style preferences between study participants confirmed each of the null hypotheses. I distinctly remember during the data collection and analysis phase of my research, receiving a call from Dr. Branton Shearer, the creator of MIDAS and the individual who was scoring the inventory, asking me how I was prepping participants in the study to take the inventory. I said, “What do you mean?” and he replied, “I’ve never seen anything like this. Everyone is answering the questions the same way.” Of course I had to say “Exactly! This is what I have been trying to say!” After a great deal more discussion with Branton, we both agreed that the data gathered definitely supported my contention that learning style preferences and intelligence strengths could be used as predictors for academic and vocational success in the bomb disposal field, and honestly, I don’t know which of us was more excited about the findings.
Unfortunately, the bomb disposal career field was not as excited about the results as either Branton or I. Even though the results of my research floated around the bomb disposal community, and every six months or so someone would inquire about the findings, nobody could figure out a way to use the results to benefit the career field. Then in 2011, the Chief of the U.S. Army Ordnance Corps, a Brigadier General who oversaw the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) program within the Army, came calling. He was trying to figure out a way to lower Army student attrition at EOD School, because it was the height of the IED-fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, and there were not enough Army students making it through EOD School to fill all the necessary potions in the career field. Someone had turned him on to my study, and he felt it might have some utility in finding a way to put better qualified EOD candidates into the training pipeline.
At this point I enlisted the expertise of Dr. Branton Shearer, and we set about conducting a study to validate (or invalidate) the results of my original study, and if the results were found to be valid, determine whether or not it might be possible to develop a tool or methodology to identify better candidates for EOD training, meaning “more likely to graduate” EOD School. Four questions were investigated in sequence:
1) Does the population sampled have characteristics associated with successful EOD practitioners?
2) Do successful EOD School graduates have significantly different intellectual profiles from non‐graduates?
3) Can a Graduation Prediction Scale (GPS) score be derived from the identified scales that differentiate successful graduates from non‐graduates?
4) Can GPS values be calibrated so as to differentiate between several types of EOD applicants within acceptable margins of error, e.g., High‐Potential, Good‐Potential, At‐Risk, and Low‐Potential.
The findings, which were based on data collected for 983 candidates who had previously been admitted to the Army EOD training program, not only validated the findings of the first study, but the data showed significant correlation between graduation status and 5 of the MIDAS scales (Music Appreciation, Writing/Reading, Spatial Problem Solving, Personal Knowledge, and General Logic), plus the candidate’s education-level prior to training, suggesting that the creation of a Graduation Prediction Scale (GPS) might be possible. Based on these results an EOD GPS was developed and tested, and it was found to be able to correctly predict eighty percent (80%) of successful graduates.
For those of you who are curious as to why Music Appreciation made it in as one of the cognitive factors that might potentially be used as a predictor of EOD School graduation, it is not because the next bomb technician you run into will be a fan of Bach, Benny Goodman, or Billy Joel, because there was a negative correlation between Music Appreciation and successful completion of bomb disposal training…who would have known! Regardless of successful EOD School graduates being less musically inclined than their non-graduate brethren, the data from this study suggests that successful graduates of EOD training do have unique and measurable differences in their multiple intelligences skills and abilities, and that the differences between graduates and non-graduates are both statistically significant and meaningful. Additionally, it can be argued that the scales that are higher for successful graduates are consistent with the skills needed to perform effectively as an EOD practitioner: self‐understanding, visual‐spatial problem‐solving, general logic (common sense), reading/writing and leadership skills.
If you’re like me, you are probably thinking, “This is exciting stuff!” and that the Army must have started using the GPS right away. Well you would be wrong. In a series of lengthy meetings to discuss the application of these findings, and implication of the EOD GPS, it was decided that use of the GPS would be “too disruptive” to the current process of getting Army butts-in-seats at EOD School. The logic looked like this…filling Army slots for EOD School at the time was based on recruitment, both from soldiers currently serving in the Army, and for those joining the Army off the street (i.e., new recruits). Essentially, Recruiters were filling slots for EOD training by talking soldiers and potential soldiers into volunteering for EOD if they even remotely met the qualifications. Basically, most Recruiters could care less if someone failed out of EOD School as long as they got them there in the first place, because they, meaning the Recruiter, had met their quota for signing people up for EOD. If using the GPS were implemented, it would mean that they, meaning the recruiters, would have to administer a new test, and that they would have an even smaller pool of potential candidates to try to talk into joining EOD, and it would make their job exponentially harder (in their minds) …of course they were against it.
Unfortunately, by the time debating overuse of the GPS was finished, and the smoke settled, the Chief of Ordnance who had commissioned the study had moved on to another position, and his replacement had little interest in implementing new recruitment procedures. It is worth adding though, that to solve the attrition rate issue, the EOD School just eliminated a fairly high percentage of their hardest practical area test problems, which of course, were the ones causing candidates to fail out of the school…think about that next time you need a bomb defused.
So here I sit, 40 years into a career in the bomb disposal world, and 40 years after MI theory exploded (no pun intended) onto the education scene, knowing full well that using MI for recruitment and retention of future bomb technicians would vastly improve the quality and qualifications of those entering the career field. In all likelihood, its use would also make it a safer profession, simply by having the right people, cognitively speaking, in the job. Sometimes though, just throwing bodies at a problem makes it seemingly go away, especially if implementation of something new falls into the “too hard” category. My wife reminds me however, that on average it takes about 17 years for a new idea to be embraced by a community of practitioners, so I am still holding out hope…2028 is just around the corner.
Dr. Edwin A. Bundy, who goes by Ed, is a Senior Program Manager for the U.S. Department of Defense at the Irregular Warfare Technical Support Directorate (IWTSD). He oversees advanced technology development efforts related to Explosive Ordnance Disposal and Explosives Operations (EOD/EXO) and provides technology-based solutions for combating terrorists and criminal use of explosives to operational personnel worldwide. Dr. Bundy serves as a federal liaison to the National Bomb Squad Commanders Advisory Board (NBSCAB) in the U.S., and is an advisor for both the International Association of Bomb Technicians and Investigators (IABTI) and U.S. Bomb Technician Association (USBTA). Ed is a former U.S. Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Technician, Certified International Post-Blast Investigator (CIPBI), and Licensed Private Investigator (LPI) in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Ed also holds Ph.Ds. in both Forensic Science and Education.
Armstrong, T. (1994). Multiple intelligences in the classroom. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Canfield, A. A. (2000). Canfield learning styles inventory (LSI) manual. Los Angeles: Western Psychological.
Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of Mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. New York: Basic Books.
Gardner, H. (1999). Intelligence reframed: Multiple intelligences for the 21st century. New York: Basic Books.
Lane, C. (2000). Implementing multiple intelligences and learning styles in distributed learning/IMS projects. Retrieved on 29 May, 2005 from http://www.tecweb.org/styles/imslsindl.pdf.
Merriam, S. B., & Caffarella, R. S. (1991). Learning in adulthood: A comprehensive guide. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Shearer, B. (2004, January). Multiple intelligences theory after 20 years. Teachers College Record, 106(1), 2-16.
Shearer, C. B. (1996). The MIDAS: Professional manual. Kent, Ohio: MI Research and Consulting.
Sternberg, R. J. (1985). Beyond IQ: A triarchic theory of human intelligence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Sternberg R., & Grigorenko, E. L. (1997). Are cognitive styles still in style? American Psychologist, 52(7), 700-712
Dr. Edwin Bundy