Learning by Doing!
By Megan Gartrell, Staff Writer
Virtual learning environments are a growing trend bound to filter their way into most universities in the near future. For now, there are only a few colleges in Canada that offer these types of programs and Loyalist College is proving to be an innovative leader in the field.
Located in Belleville, Ontario, Loyalist recently received the 2013 International Learning Resources Network (LERN) Award for Programming at the LERN 40th Annual Conference in Washington, D.C. Loyalist was one of six nominees for the international Programming award, and the only Canadian college nominated
“It’s always nice to win an award,” said Mark Kirkpatrick, director of Information Technology Services at Loyalist College, by telephone interview. “Recognition is good. This is a very unique thing that Loyalist is doing. There aren’t many people in North America that are [building virtual programs], so what we are doing is being watched by a lot of people.”
InfiniteSpaces Virtual Design Centre, a division within Loyalist College, designed the winning virtual cookie factory program. For the past five years, inifiniteSpaces has created a number of learning simulations for both private sector clients and governments across North America.
Students in the Process Operator—Food Manufacturing Apprenticeship program, create their own avatars and delve into a realistic factory floor to learn and respond to scenarios they might typically encounter on the job.
“It is a virtual world,” said Kirkpatrick “You go in to learn. It’s not a social world environment, so those distractions are eliminated. It’s learning by doing in places that are not necessarily available to students today. A factory floor is a good example because not many factories are going to turn students loose on a potentially dangerous floor to learn about electrical and instrumentations.
“Here we put them in a factory, dressed accordingly, so they feel like they are actually doing that job and learning the things they need to do. The fact that they can learn a lot of these things before they enter the real place is very advantageous. It’s critical in getting them ready for the real world.”
And this “real-life” experience can make all the difference in a student’s transition from classroom to career. Many recent graduates lose out on jobs because of a lack of “hands-on experience.” At Loyalist, students gain that experience while earning credits simultaneously. These types of virtual worlds are creating a well-needed bridge.