Educators get course in virtual reality learning

Joshua Vissers/Daily Mining Gazette REMC1 Director Mike Richardson gets a warning as he demonstrates a virtual MIG weld without his safety visor lowered.

With the advancements in virtual reality technology, school districts here and across the country are trying to decide how they want to proceed with virtual reality education.

Tuesday afternoon at the Copper County Intermediate School District administration building, Mike Richardson, director of the Regional Education Media Center Region 1 (REMC1) demonstrated what may be the next virtual reality educational tool to superintendents from intermediate school districts (ISDs) across the Upper Peninsula.

“It’s hard to get a lot of educational content out of an entertainment platform,” Richardson said.

Some districts are interested in developing software that can teach things like carpentry, welding and plumbing. Others might opt to let others do the development and simply buy the system at a later date.

There is particular interest in developing virtual alternatives for training that can be dangerous to the trainee or costly in equipment and materials.

Currently available educational programs are simple and mostly demonstrative. Rudimentary welding and carpentry give users a rough outline of what basic tasks and safety measures are used in a job.

Richardson called these exposure-level programs, meant to give users an idea of what the profession is like.

Programs could be developed to train and test trainees in a safe environment with virtual tools and materials that cannot be damaged by a mistake. These would have to be much more detailed and variable programs.

ISDs across the state are deciding if they want to be directly involved in the development process.

“It wasn’t designed for education,” Richardson said.

To try the system, superintendents wore a headset with goggles and earphones and hold a motion-sensing control in each hand.

For certain programs, motion sensors are also attached to the user’s shoes. Two sensors placed in opposite corners of the room work together to track what way the user is facing and how they move.

Inside the simulation, users can see virtual recreations of the sensors they are holding and wearing. Putting a hand sensor against a virtual object and pushing a button on it will pick up that item.

In a welding simulation, Richardson picked up two pieces of metal, changed settings on the welder according to provided instructions, put on safety gloves and a welding mask and used the virtual welder to join the two metal sheets with a butt weld.

As a demonstration, he lifted the virtual safety visor as he welded, and text appeared, instructing him to lower visor to protect his face.

After the weld was done, he used a virtual grinder to clean it up. The activity takes place in a simulation of a welding shop that included other workers moving around the virtual scene.