Adam Smith College (ASC) in Fife, Scotland has brought vocational courses to life with interactive virtual reality Skills2Learn software from Cengage Learning – an online platform which includes blended e-learning solutions, 3D virtual reality game-based simulation and training assessments.
Robert McCulloch, lecturer in plumbing and heating as well as assessor and trainer for a number of vocational courses, explains how he uses e-learning to guide students through courses and assessments at their own pace.
ASC has 25,000 students and offers a range of courses from introductory level through to degrees and professional qualifications. Until the introduction of Cengage Learning’s virtual reality simulations, the college had relied upon one-time live sessions for practical courses such as plumbing, heating, gas and electrical qualifications. This left students wishing to revise practice with little opportunity to do so. With the introduction of Skills2Learn interactive programmes students have been able to learn at their own pace and playback explanatory examples as many times as they like.
The college has used the technology for 2 years as Robert explains, “After experiencing various free trials through the post we decided to apply for a demonstration of one of the packages to see how they could support our classes. I use it for 4 courses and I have 80+ students registered in total. When students have enrolled we send them the registration details and they can go to our website and access the course online.”
Students work at their own pace
The Skills2Learn software can be used alongside more traditional teaching in the classroom and operates a step-by-step format so that when the student has understood a particular concept they can move on to the next point.
Robert said, “You can work at your own pace and go over things again and again until you have grasped the concept. I incorporate the interactive technology within my lessons and allow students to follow it while I lecture. It can be used as a background to introduce a certain topic or it can be used for the whole lesson to go into as much detail as we want. I use it to check the progress of each individual student and to assess which particular areas they need help with.”
Learning ahead of classes
The software can also be accessed outside college so that students can study from home or look at a particular lesson before they come in to the classroom giving them a good understanding of the theory in advance and enabling the lecturers to focus on any particular areas that require further explanation.
Robert explains, “We ask the students studying for their gas qualifications to look at the gas control section within the software. They then come to the lecture with a good understanding of gas control which enhances the learning process, and means that we aren’t stuck on the basic concepts but can get straight onto more of the complicated aspects.”
Robert does not see the software as something that will replace traditional teaching, but as a tool in the box which goes hand-in-hand with live demonstrations, “It assists the students that we have here and gives them a more in-depth understanding of the subject. Parts of the course would often take a long time to explain, however with the programmes we use they have a variety of ways to analyse the mechanisms through animations and scenarios that they can work through.”
He continues, “Often the software is better at explaining than the live demonstration. It includes self assessment questions and tests and we use the results to focus in on particular areas that they need to work on or revisit. There is also the benefit that they can work on something as long as they like as there are no time limits.”
Animations and visual guides
Robert uses e-learning for all his classes and his course on renewable energy covers the different types of heat and electricity producing technologies, the selection process, the incentives available and the policies that apply to installations.
He said, “The class I teach on renewable energy requires the students to investigate how to reduce their carbon footprint. They use the animations and visual guides to understand and explain how electricity is generated through alternative energy sources as well as fossil fuels. From there they can go on to discover other ways they can reduce their carbon footprint. By the end of the course they have a clear understanding of solar, biomass, wind turbines, rain, tides, waves and geothermal energy sources.”
The current generation of students often has an expectation that the college and university they are attending will have the latest facilities and services especially in the light of rising course fees and living costs.
The college also provides enables students to undertake more independent research or work from home. Robert said, “I had one occasion when a young lady was unable to attend college because her son was ill. I was able to direct her to the sites that she needed and she was able to continue her course from home. That’s when it becomes invaluable. “
When it comes to assessment, Robert has all the information to hand to enable him to mark work and submit it to the exam boards, “I also run a solar hot water course which is a standalone qualification for my students in which they work through the material supplied by the qualifying body. Using the software has improved the understanding of the subject and has made my job as an assessor easier at the end of the day.”
Support for learning difficulties
The technology also allows colleges to keep track of how well each student is performing and is helping engage and support those with learning difficulties, “We have students enrolling that have various learning difficulties such as dyslexia or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), said Robert.” “With someone that has ADHD they can work on something for 10 minutes, then go off and do something else and the software remembers where they got to, so that when they are ready they can pick up where they left off. They’re learning without realising they are learning.”
He concluded, “As we develop more courses we intend to incorporate this technology as it has been a success with both students and also lecturers who use it for reference purposes. Fife Council has also expressed interest in the software and believes it will be of interest to other colleges in the area.”
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