Virtual reality and adaptive learning could soon become essential additions to the modern teachers’ toolkit. With games becoming more realistic than ever before, Greenwich University’s senior lecturer in disruptive technologies saw the perfect opportunity for innovation.

Dr Ioannis Paraskevopolous has been awarded a £30,000 industrial fellowship by the Royal Academy of Engineering and has teamed up with leading science and engineering company, Qinetiq, to bring his interactive learning experience to life. The Collective Innovative Training Environment, or xCITE as he calls it, is the digital classroom of the future.

Adding an extra challenge

Students undertaking training through xCITE experience something called ‘adaptive learning’. Using a series of algorithms, the computer picks up on their strengths and weaknesses, adapting the pace and content of teaching to accelerate their progress through the course.

As an expert in gamification, Paraskevopolous engages learners by adding competitive elements to the programme, setting challenges and rewarding them once complete. In doing so, xCITE encourages students to take an active role in their learning, moving on from passive teaching methods of the past.

Perhaps most impressively of all, the system is virtual reality compatible. Simply by donning a headset, learners and their teams can be immersed in a virtual world, practicing all manner of complex tasks from the comfort of the classroom. In many instances, this could allow trainees to rehearse potentially life-threatening scenarios in safety.

Real-life trials with the Royal Navy

Operating mainly within the defence, security and aerospace sectors, Qinetiq and Paraskevopolous have teamed up with the Royal Navy to test out the system. Trialling the learning platform on both experienced and novice submariners, the team have demonstrated how it can reduce training costs and the amount of sea-time required to gain qualifications.

Helen Dudfield, chief scientist for training and human performance at Qinetiq, said: “As technology drives social and cultural change, training styles must keep up with shifting generational attitudes and expectations. Rigid training in fixed workspaces will make way for courses that offer the flexibility to learn whenever, and wherever, is convenient.

Most importantly, technology can vastly improve the quality of learning by tailoring courses to students’ individual competencies and circumstances.”

The platform has recently been demonstrated at Farnborough, generating interest from a number of aerospace and naval organisations from overseas and commonwealth countries.  While the project is currently being trialled with the Navy, the team believe it could be just as beneficial when applied to aerospace training.

The Royal Academy of Engineering’s Industrial Fellowship programme provides the opportunity for academics to understand collaborating research projects in an industrial environment. Secondments with engineering businesses allow researchers to devote between six months and a year to testing their innovations in industry. They also allow researchers to gain vital industry experience and buff up on current practices.  Upon their return, engineers will use their knowledge to enhance both teaching and student learning. The scheme is open to engineers from all disciplines and a grant of up to £30,000 covers the salary of the awardee for their time spent with the industry host. Find out more about RAEng Industrial Fellowships here.

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