Learn in 3D

A grant from the national science foundation funds simulations to teach work-ready skills for electrical careers

How can students enrolled in an online technology program gain the hands-on experience they need to be job ready in the energy industry? Michael Johnson, associate dean of technology in the School of Business & Technology, believes 3D educational simulations can prepare students with the skills they need.

The National Science Foundation agrees.

In June, the NSF awarded Excelsior College and Polk State College, a multi-campus institution in Florida, a three-year grant of more than $860,000 to develop 3D simulations to teach and assess
key skills in power generation and advanced manufacturing. The simulations would prepare technicians for skilled positions in the energy and manufacturing industries. This is Excelsior’s first-ever NSF grant.

The simulations will be incorporated into the associate degree in technology program, in the nuclear/power plant, electronic/ instrumentation, and electromechanical concentrations. Through the
simulations, students would learn safety techniques; gain the experience of using electrical tools to do a job task, such as troubleshooting an electrical component; and reading a blueprint.
With simulations in the program, students would gain workforce readiness skills along with industry certification to support their electrical careers. Students who earn a grade B or higher earn the Center for Workforce Development’s Energy Industry Fundamentals certificate acknowledging their competencies and foundational knowledge of electrical work.

“Research has shown that simulations are an effective method to reinforce concepts and enhance students’ learning experience,” says Johnson, the principal investigator on the grant. Simulations provide students an opportunity to repeat the scenario several times such that they have a better understanding of the content. Additionally, simulations allow students to perform the activities in a safe environment and learn from their mistakes.”

Johnson explains the simulations will give students immediate feedback as they progress through the scenario. For example, if the student selects the wrong tool or equipment, they will receive
feedback with an explanation of why it was incorrect. Conversely, when the student does the simulation exercises correctly, text pops up to explain why the choices were correct and reinforces the learning. “The final scenario will be a graded exercise that compiles all competencies required to perform an electrical job task,” says Johnson, and adds that the student will receive a final grade with any relative feedback.

Students who earn the Energy Industry Fundamentals certificate are better prepared for electrician careers in the energy industry, and electricians are in high demand. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects job opportunities to expand by 14 percent between 2014 and 2024, a rate that’s much faster than average.

The 3D simulations are on schedule for completion in early 2018, and a firm has been hired to assess their impact on how students achieve course outcomes. The simulations eventually will be offered as open educational resources.