Who Needs Experts? Students Designing a Synthetic Learning Environment of Fukushima Nuclear...

Posted by Michael Vallance on May 24 2017 at 12:15 a.m.

  • Ed Media 2017 presentation text - part 1.

    Hello my name is Michael Vallance and I'm here to talk about our Unity 3-D project.

    The project is a Synthetic Learning Environment of the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

    The research aim of our project is to capture data of learning in a Synthetic Learning Environment.

    As you can see, we have preceded our title with the question, who needs experts?

    I will come to that later.

    The focus of this short paper is to summarize the student development of this synthetic environment in order to support more engaged academic practice and transformative learning in higher education.

    The context of our project is the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident of March 2011

    At that time an earthquake and tsunami flooded the reactors’ cooling water pumps

    The reactors of course heated up and subsequently there were hydrogen explosions

    Now six years later reactors one and two are still not contained, there are high levels of radiation, contaminated soil and water, the cleanup cost is enormous and there's no time frame for completion of the cleanup.

    So that’s our context and motivation.

    A synthetic experience has been described as a platform for learning by augmenting replacing, creating or managing a learner’s experience with the world

    And learning is considered to be a process whereby knowledge is created through the transformative experience.

    In this project we have three undergraduate students with no prior experience Unity 3-D software development or nuclear power plant technology.

    Yet the students have designed a virtual robot that moves within a 3-D space collecting dangerous radioactive bins and information for later use.

    Moreover the 3-D space is viewable in the Oculus Rift head mounted display.

    The project itself has become a space ‘for and of’ learning.

    Let's take a look at some screen captures of the design space.

    The students themselves have become learners as developers.

    They've modified the basic robot. They've added camera noise due to radiation. They've constructed 3-D models. They’ve programmed the maneuvering of robots. They’ve calculated water flow velocity and designed water pipe layouts. Included different types of radiation. Calculated different radiation exposure values. Incorporated their own gameplay experiences. Stated the learning objectives. And are considering ways of evaluating users accomplishments.


  • part 2

    The next phase of the project is to develop interactivity with the following intended learning outcomes based upon Bloom’s updated taxonomy. We want new students to recall the events that led to the accident. We want them to summarize the nuclear power process. We want them to explain the cause-and-effect of reactor core temperature increase. To implement radioactive bin recovery and acquire relevant information . We want them to recognize the need to clear up the debris. To evaluate danger to the robot based on the radiation levels. And create their own hypothesis for the cause of the accident. As you can see from the slides, we have attempted to cover many of the cognitive processes portrayed by Bloom’s taxonomy.

    Let's take a look at one example. In the space there are total of 12 cards. By matching two cards together the students must determine the outcome. In this example, the card on the left shows that power has been lost. The card on the right shows water is flooding the pump room. What do you think may be the outcome? Yes the water will soon stop flowing and the reactors will become dangerously hot.

    So next semester we will form an Experimental group and a Control group, and attempt to determine the effect of this synthetic learning environment with new students.

    So in conclusion, of course the world needs experts but we think we are developing pedagogies and environments to support unique learning experiences and through such learning the students themselves become expert.

    With the development of 3-D and virtual worlds we think educators can make complicated situations more accessible and learnable. By engaging students themselves as experts we can create confident, self-determined, creative individuals who question rather than believe.

    I hope you have learned something from this short presentation. It is work-in-progress, but in this presentation I have just given you a taste of the processes involved in developing a Synthetic Learning Environment.

    Thank you very much.


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