Virtually speaking

Mohawk instructors are finding innovative ways to build augmented and virtual reality into their teaching

Some have been driven by the shift to remote learning, others were embracing the technology before, but whatever the motivation, a growing list of Mohawk College faculty are building augmented and virtual reality into their teaching.

Many have turned to Marilyn Powers, Director, Academic Technology Integration and Innovation, for help and guidance.
Powers found herself busy in the spring and summer of 2020 holding workshops for faculty looking to learn about artificial and virtual reality (AVR) as classes shifted online.

Powers is working on a plan to ensure faculty understand the technology and its power in teaching and can build the skills they need to adopt it.

Mohawk will continue it’s strategy to incorporate more Virtual learning simulations into curriculum in all areas of the college. The recognition from government funding agencies that Virtual Learning Simulations are an important part of the future will help Mohawk make some bigger investments in the coming year, says Powers.

One particularly powerful application for AVR, says Powers, is simulations that prepare students for placements and as a substitute for the placements that have been pulled because of pandemic restrictions.

Support Service Worker students, for instance, will train and practise for difficult interactions through scenarios that include a busy and agitated supervisor, a colleague trying to cross appropriate boundaries, or being asked to do something they are not legally permitted to do.

When students log in with a webcam through Zoom, they see an avatar and are presented with a simulation scenario. Ideally, it will be standardized actors conducting the simulation, says Powers, using controllers governing their movement and voices.

The Mursion software used by Mohawk even picks up on facial expressions and builds them into the avatar’s reactions, says Powers.

“The idea is to fully prepare students for their placement by putting them in difficult and tricky situations that they can learn from. But I can see this being used across the campus in many applications, from interview preparation to difficult ethics, diversity and inclusion conversations. The future is huge.”

“There really is no limit to what I can do with this. It’s only limited by my imagination.”

Constructing reality

Dan Collins, Professor, Construction Engineering Technician-Building Renovation

Dan Collins, professor in Construction Engineering Technician-Building Renovation, started to dabble in 3D modelling before the pandemic, figuring out software as he went so that he could represent building concepts – from structural design to assembling a roof – in three dimensions.

Now he’s gone a step further, building in AVR elements for a complete experience, thanks to help from Powers.

“This semester, I virtually built a new house and, as I teach the building code, I was building it in a virtual setting. The students can see all the components as a 3D model.”
Construction students tend to be hands-on and visual learners, so this is the next best thing to being on a building site, says Collins.

The virtual house can be seen from any view – from a bird’s eye, right down to individual studs and fasteners. He can take off the roof or zoom in on exterior cladding or use an X-ray function to see under floors to beams, joists and cross members.

He can quiz students on how components go together or have them use the technology to size footings and foundations.
In the future, Collins wants to have students help design the model house. He’s already requested that the 3D modelling software be installed on classroom computers.

He’s excited by the possibility of building AVR into his classroom teachings, when learning happens in person again, such that students are immersed into the virtual house’s environment using relatively inexpensive virtual reality goggles.

“There really is no limit to what I can do with this. It’s only limited by my imagination.”

High-flying training

Sean Morrison, Instructor, Avionics

AVR is well-established in Mohawk’s aviation programs, including sophisticated virtual maintenance trainers that are the same used to train working mechanics for the Boeing 737, says Sean Morrison, an instructor in the college’s Avionics program that launched in 2020. 

Mohawk is the only college in Canada with the virtual trainers and there will soon be 10, all located at the college’s new aviation campus at Hamilton International Airport that opened in February. 

Students sit in front of two large screens, one displaying the flight deck and the other the entire aircraft. Every button pushed or lever pulled works exactly as it would on the aircraft. Students can move into any area of the airplane to get at the electronics systems. 

On the virtual trainers, instructors can run scenarios in which students investigate problems described by pilots in a journey log. In the aviation business, that’s called a snag. 

Students have to follow the proper procedures to probe the snag, including confirming the issue and its root cause, fixing it by replacing or repairing components, and then testing to confirm the snag has been fixed. 

Mohawk’s hands-on training is at a whole new level with the virtual trainers, says Morrison. Students are handling the scenario from start to finish all on their own. “It’s a far better learning experience. Students used to have to crowd around a physical scenario and try to see what was happening, but only one or two students could actually do the work.” 

Morrison also uses augmented reality to display a 3D model of an aircraft component that students can walk around, manipulate, and hit a button to create “an exploded diagram.” 

“When you create a different type of experience like that you’re tricking the students into learning. You’re creating a distinct memory that’s different than every other hundred days that they went to class.” 

An inside view 

Mini Thomas, Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering

When Mini Thomas, a professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, attended AVR workshops in spring 2020 she figured there would be a massive learning curve to incorporate it in her teaching, along with hardware needs that would make it unrealistic. 

In the workshop, she learned she could start small, without hardware or complicated programming. At the time, she was developing a first-year fundamentals course that was built around using hands-on skills, such as drilling and soldering electrical wiring, combined with learning about systems, sensors and actuators. 

“I thought I could use something to show them what is behind these black boxes. Sometimes with these big systems they never have an idea what’s inside these black boxes until they go to the industry and start working.” 

Thomas knew the X-ray function built into the AVR software could answer that mystery for students, who would also be able to disassemble and reassemble a component’s parts. 

Thomas also builds AVR elements in her course with simple and complex systems including the Robotic Arms and Mechatronics Systems. 

Short of touching and feeling the systems and actually taking them apart, Thomas says it’s the next best thing. 

EON XR’s integration with Mohawk’s learning management system means students just have to click a link to launch the AVR-powered lesson, which she layers with videos and quizzes. 

Thomas is so happy with AVR that she expects she will build the technology into courses she’s now developing for Mohawk’s new Digital Health degree program. 

“At Mohawk, when I look around it’s a place where a lot of innovation is given a direction to really take off.”

Main image – Dr. Marilyn Powers, Director, Academic Technology Integration and Innovation

Other Posts You Might Like