Recharging learning with new 3D simulation software
New 3D simulation software created by SAIT employees will soon help electrical students more easily grasp complex theoretical concepts.
The virtual learning environment takes electrical theory and demonstrates it in a visual way, allowing students to interact with concepts that might otherwise be invisible to the human eye — like electromagnetism — or too dangerous to replicate in real life.
"This software takes students leagues beyond their textbooks and explanations on the white board creating a stronger link between the practical and theoretical" says Jack Graham, Academic Chair for electrical programs at SAIT's School of Manufacturing and Automation.
"They achieve that deeper learning and retention because now they're actively engaged with the theory versus passively viewing it on a whiteboard."
Preview the simulation software in action:
Making the invisible, visible
Graham envisioned the virtual learning environment for electrical programs two years ago. He has since been working with his team and SAIT's Centre for Instructional Technology and Development (CITD) to design and develop simulation software for generators and alternators, which will be rolled out this fall to fourth year electrical apprentices in both on-campus and blended learning programs.
Electrical instructors Sarah Clark and Trevor Oakenfold have worked closely with the multimedia developers in CITD to ensure the learning environments accurately represent real-world generation facilities.
Clark says the 3D environments will be a key learning tool. "Our instructors do an amazing job of illustrating imaginary current and flux lines on the board; however there is so much going on inside a running machine it's hard to convey all of the concepts without it becoming baffling.
"The 3D environment will allow the student to look inside a running machine — which is impossible in the real world — and take it apart piece by piece to view it at different angles."
The software will also include sound so new electricians can better recognize and understand the noises they hear on-site. A simulated control room will allow the student to read and understand electrical metres and perform functions that would be required of them in a real-world setting.
Expanding to support more students
The in-house development of the 3D electrical simulation prototype was made possible by funding from Suncor Energy, CEDA and most recently, a $297,500 contribution from Western Economic Diversification Canada.
The team will now expand the software to include the remainder of the electrical distribution system from the manufacturing plant to the end commercial, industrial or residential user.
"That follows our curriculum for electrical apprentices from first year to fourth year," says Graham.
SAIT will also develop two other 3D simulation modules to support students in the Millwright apprenticeship and Non-Destructive Testing programs.