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VR technology can help students learn and train in virtual environments – exposing them to more careers and providing better, safer training, says NC Community’s director of online learning College System.
“Career exploration is important because many people don’t know what they don’t know when it comes to career opportunities. With our highly immersive and interactive simulation, one person can experience up to 23 different specialized jobs. »
What comes to mind when you think of Virtual Reality (VR)? For some, it’s the Facebook Meta, a realistic game or a scene from a sci-fi movie.
At the NC Community College System (NCCCS), VR technology also represents the potential for students to learn and train in virtual environments. This training potentially increases confidence, skill and career exposure while reducing the time and cost of physical training.
The system held a conference in May 2022 to share immersive learning technology with career and technical education (CTE) teachers at community colleges – in hopes of showing the potential of virtual reality to extend teaching methods. teaching for the future workforce in an exciting way. The 2023 conference, scheduled for April 3-5 at the Caraway Conference Center, will focus on healthcare, business information and law enforcement.
Some colleges, like South Piedmont Community College, are using virtual reality to help more students experience some form of study abroad. Pitt Community College used technology to create an online campus tour. Other colleges are using virtual reality to expose students to multiple career opportunities in one place or for pre-graduation training.
EdNC spoke with Lane Freeman, NCCCS Director of Online Learning, and Transfr VR employees Charlie Bradley, with Regional Government Relations, and David Wilkinson, Senior Sales and Workforce Advocate , to learn more about the technology and its potential. Transfr works to build class-to-career pathways through immersive and hands-on virtual reality training.
EdNC has edited this interview for length and clarity.
EdNC: What is VR used for? What are some of its most common uses, especially in schools and community colleges?
Wilkinson: K-12, community colleges and the North Carolina Department of Public Safety are currently using virtual reality in an effort to expose individuals to career opportunities in the skilled trades world. The two important criteria for us are: are these jobs in demand and will they ensure a sustainable way of life?
When we focus on areas to create content, we focus on areas like construction, advanced manufacturing, cooking, hospitality and tourism, aviation fundamentals, and more. At Transfr, we focus on two areas: career exploration and our virtual training center. Career exploration is important because many people don’t know what they don’t know when it comes to career opportunities. With our highly immersive and interactive simulation, one person can experience up to 23 different skilled trades. Our virtual training center gives an individual the opportunity to improve their skills and acquire fundamental professional or training skills. This training produces a much safer working environment and also significantly reduces the consumables used in the programs.
Pamlico Community College is one of the community colleges that will provide training in correctional facilities. In correctional facilities, some tools are not allowed, period. However, virtually people can pick up wrenches, saws, and hammers. It just gives them the opportunity to learn without actually handling the tools.
Free man: Last year at our conference we focused on automotive, advanced manufacturing and construction. Now we are also looking at health care and public safety. I think the impact VR can have in the Great 58 is where we can start planting those seeds. We hear a lot about the apprehension of how much it costs. It has its cost, but it also has an ongoing return on investment.
EdNC: If not, how is North Carolina already using virtual reality?
Wilkinson: Our largest implementation to date in North Carolina is with Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools. They bought 120 of our all-access headsets for their summer accelerator program. Now they are asking us to help them integrate this same technology into their CTE programs, as well as into colleges for career exploration. Union County and Iredell-Statesville Public Schools have also ordered several sets of helmets. A few community colleges are also talking to us about using virtual reality for career exploration.
Bradley: Earlier this school year, I met with a number of leaders from the Ministry of Public Instruction. Each of them raved about our technology and saw how it could truly change lives.
EdNC: Where do you see the greatest opportunities for virtual reality to help innovate in community colleges?
Wilkinson: One of the areas that I consider most important is simply the ability to quickly and effectively improve the skills of individuals. Our product is not designed to replace an instructor. It is intended to supplement instructional work in a laboratory environment. However, if you are in a rural area of North Carolina, where it is difficult or impossible to find an automotive instructor or a construction instructor, this technology will do a very good job of helping individuals gain a very good understanding. of this skill set. .
There are so many different ways to extend technology. And the truth is that we are always at the forefront of this technology. For us, engagement with our community and technical college partners is a big deal. As we build and develop and find where we can be most effective, we need this feedback.
Bradley: In North Carolina, many industries need workers. Specifically, we’re seeing this sort of renaissance in manufacturing with VinFast, Toyota, and biomedical manufacturing coming into the state. We can be part of that solution to hopefully get people interested in manufacturing and hopefully be that solution for workforce development needs across the state.
Free man: At the community college level, over the past 5-10 years, part of my role has been how do we move from face-to-face classes to online classes? CTE has always been one of those areas where it’s been really hard for me to make a good point. When I started seeing virtual reality, I started seeing this potential.
COVID has also helped push people online, so I think we’ve had people’s minds a bit open to what’s possible. At last year’s (immersive learning) conference, a lot of people had never put on VR headsets before. When they left they were really energized by it and thinking about how they could implement it and they came back with a buzz. I just want to keep this buzz going. And how will it continue to grow? Then, so that our professors, our colleges, our legislators and everyone else will no longer think that virtual reality is crazy when they see it. That they think, ‘Okay, finally, we have a way to solve this problem that we have.’
EdNC: How do you justify high upfront costs and work with interested customers to find a starting point?
Wilkinson: In fact, high costs are very rare. Very, very rarely. Because I think people who invest see the benefits. I think the price goes up when someone is not really sure if it will meet their needs. Once they see what Transfr can do, they are interested. Also, our pricing model is a headset model, not a student model. So, a school district or community college buys five headsets – at a high price, that would be $25,000; at the low end it would be around $10,000. But with these five headsets, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of students can use this technology.
Bradley: You could buy a helmet and put a million people through if that’s what your community college can do.
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