Poster: Variable Scenarios of the VR Use in Training Specialists for Chemical Industry
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The aim of the research was to study what are principal opportunities, frameworks and possible scenarios for the VR use in undergraduate education of specialists for chemical sector.
The first strategy we determined in the research comprised a comparative study of the use in education of three-dimensional visualization of chemical molecules in the formats of desktop computer screen and 3D glasses.
The second strategy embraced a comparative study of students’ individual, pair and group activities on the creation of virtual objects and worlds in the process of solving quasi-professional tasks in the format of 3D glasses.
KeywordsVirtual reality Technical education Chemical industry
Despite the high expectations associated with virtual reality (VR) technologies, there are still no breakthrough innovations in its use in education and obvious advantages compared to “traditional” computer technologies. Meanwhile, the use of VR in education allows solving a number of fundamentally new tasks. In particular, studying phenomena and processes in the micro and macrocosm, within complex technical and biological systems, presenting various physical, chemical, biological and social processes that occur at a very high or too low speed in a shape convenient for studying, and simulating situations of experience-led training. This makes it important to study what is a potential of the VR use in technical education.
2 Classification of VR Applications in Education
The use of VR applications in educational practice requires pedagogical interpretation of the attributes of VR and their impact on the cognitive, developmental and educational process.
VR applications in education divide into two types : (1) non-immersive (without immersion), where the virtual world is presented on a computer screen; (2) immersive, which completely immerse users in the virtual world.
The conducted analysis made it possible to identify the following main areas of use of VR in training of specialists in technical universities: (1) the creation of virtual equipment, primarily for simulating emergencies; (2) providing remote access to real authentic technology devices.
Let us consider examples of the use of VR applications in the training of engineers at Kazan National Research Technological University.
3 Virtual “Computer Science” Textbook Simulator
The textbook simulator includes the following modules: informational, which provides the possibility of wide variation of static parameters (text, graphics, color) and dynamic (animation) visualization of information; a reference that includes a contextual help system that contains information about how to work with the system, learning goals and tasks, and the necessary additional methodological material; control and diagnostic, including computer means of fixation and processing of test results.
Interactivity, search engine and hypertext links give the trainee an active position when working with the textbook-simulator, allow them study the content nonlinearly, and provide possibility to choose individual trajectories and pace of leaning. Harmonious combination of animation, graphics, color, and interactivity provides visual and figurative perception of educational content. The textbook meets the requirement of openness, providing an opportunity to complement, modernize, and introduce new material.
4 Three-Dimensional Dynamic Computer Simulator
The advantages of virtual simulations include, in particular, attractive interfaces, authenticity at lower costs, stimulation of critical thinking and creativity, greater freedom for students in the ability to act by trial and error. An example of virtual simulation of interactive type is a three-dimensional dynamic computer simulator used in training of engineers for electrotechnical and electroenergetic industries at the Department of Electric Drive and Electrical Engineering.
The simulator reproduces the energy object and reliably visualizes changes in the state of electrical and technological equipment. Simulator software modules include: (1) Mathematical model of power supply system of the enterprise. (2) Virtual three-dimensional environment of the enterprise power supply system. (3) 3D-models of objects. (4) Dynamic models of electrical equipment and power supply systems. (5) Educational and methodical support. (6) Expert system of knowledge assessment.
The use of the simulator is based on the gamification of the learning process in a virtual environment, accompanied by mathematical modelling and methodical support.
There are two modes of simulator exploitation: training and knowledge testing.
In the training mode, students experience the effect of full presence at the real energy station due to the perfectly exact representation of the energy object.
Educational and methodical support includes a set of exercises, 3D-models, animations and instructional videos. Training videos give an idea of the electrical equipment, the principles and modes of operation, as well as the power supply circuits of objects. All aspects of equipment operation are disclosed: the physics of the processes occurring inside the equipment (i.e., the energy diagram of an asynchronous motor); the interaction and interrelation of the equipment components (i.e., functioning of the secondary winding of the oil transformer on the armored type magnetic circuit); connection with other external equipment (i.e., connection between electric motor and frequency drive), etc. Training videos can be used for both individual and group training.
Students can also acquire skills in the design of the documentation used at the facility (i.e., to learn the paperwork carried out by the department of the company’s chief energy specialist).
Students enjoy complete freedom of action that allows them to make a mistake in a virtual environment, not in a real life, see the consequences, understand the reasons, and take successful or unsuccessful attempts to eliminate the consequences of erroneous actions.
The second mode of operation allows assessing the level of knowledge and competencies of students in simulating various abnormal and emergency situations at the facility in the virtual environment.
The capabilities of the expert system allow the instructor: (1) To edit the situation at the facility, formulate tasks, set the order of the correct actions expected from the learners. (2) To implement basic scenarios of individual and collective work with the electrical equipment. (3) To set the required number of points (percent) for completed assignments. (4) To analyze and display statistics on the achievements of both an individual student and student groups. (5) To save and export/import evaluation sheets by time.
5 Experiment on the VR Use in Chemical Laboratory Practical Workshops
Another direction of developments in the VR use in the educational process of KNITU is a study of the effectiveness of VR technologies in performing laboratory chemical practical workshops in the process of training vocational teachers for chemical industries being conducted at the Department of Engineering Psychology and Pedagogy.
Laboratory chemical practical workshops play an important role in the training of vocational teachers for chemical industries. Chemical education includes an integrated set of vocational practical workshops in all parts of chemical science, including polymer chemistry. Meanwhile, most of the equipment being currently exploited in chemical practical workshops at technical universities has been acquired and installed in the last century. The modern equipment used in the processing of polymeric materials – installations for pressing, injection molding, and extrusion – is expensive, and therefore its usage in the educational process is difficult. Accordingly, both the hardware and the methodological support of chemical practical workshops do not meet contemporary requirements challenges.
The analysis of the literature and practice of training specialists for chemical industry  has shown that there are a number of VR applications being used in training of chemical engineers [3, 4, 5, 6]. In general, however, computer support for laboratory practical workshops is not a common practice, and the potential of impressive technological capabilities of VR for visualizing chemical structures and processes is still to be exposed. It is important to answer the question on how virtual forms of modeling technological processes of chemical production and chemical experiments in technical universities could promote students engagement.
The ongoing research covers one of the most promising, according to researchers, directions for application of VR in education – visualization of objects invisible with ordinary vision and of abstract theoretical concepts. We plan to conduct a comparative study on how three-dimensional visualization of chemical molecules and virtual models of technological processes in the formats of a computer screen and VR glasses affect learning outcomes.
As part of the research, the structure and content of the laboratory practical workshop on the discipline “Raw materials for the production of polymeric materials” with computer support is being developed. Its innovative character is determined both by the use of VR technologies and by new approaches to the development of methodical support. Special software tools are being created in Gaussian and Jmol programs and on the Unity platform, providing interaction between participants of the educational process. New opportunities of the practical workshop consist in visualization of three-dimensional models of chemical structures and virtual models of technological processes; the use of real experiments and technological processes videos; modeling of emergency situations taking place in technological cycle; a dialogical environment involving interactive actions of students on finding exit of them; and an extensive system of contextual assistance.
Pedagogical approaches to the design and implementation of laboratory practical exercises based on three-dimensional visualization include the following procedures: identification of didactic units of the academic discipline and problematic situations, containing basic knowledge for the design of a laboratory practical workshop; creation of three-dimensional models of chemical structures, chemical reactions and virtual models of technological processes, as well as scenarios of problematic situations; implementation of group activities by students on compilation of assignments based on elements of laboratory practical workshop.
As part of the study, it will be examined how the format of presentation of VR objects – a computer screen and VR glasses – affects the intensity of intra-group interactions of experiment participants in solving group tasks in VR, and what is an impact of dialogical information environment on communications intensity.
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