Simulation gives students ‘real’ field experience

By Hannah Rosche, Times West Virginian
March 23rd, 2016

simulation tool

Through a cutting-edge simulation, students are learning about tools and processes relevant to the job paths they’re studying

West Virginia’s Pierpont Community & Technical College, in partnership with the EQT Foundation, demonstrated a new ReSite simulation system at the West Virginia High Technology Consortium Park.

The simulation was developed as part of a federal grant, funded by the EQT Foundation, given to community colleges. Pierpont was not part of that grant, but due to prior association with the EQT Foundation, Pierpont was given “the same deal that the grantees got.” EQT funds different educational endeavors.

“It’s cutting edge as far as the simulations,” said Paul Schreffler, vice president of workforce development at Pierpont Community & Technical College. “We need to use the tools that are available today. It’s just a tool, but it allows us to be able to get the students in there and get them familiar with the process of their job. We talk about it in the classroom. It also adds the dimension of not only can the instructor see what they did in their performance, but then they can also get the soft skills. How do they interact with others on the site?”

Students exposed to this simulation are part of the petroleum technology program, a two-year degree program focused on training technicians for the oil and gas industry.

“What you’ll see is the simulation of a well site with the well head and the gas processing unit, separators and all the different kinds of devices that are on that site that is in a 3-D environment,” said Schreffler. “The students can go in and actually interact with those devices. You can go around and check the gauges and the valves.”

Anna Griffith, CEO of Discovery Machine Inc., the company that developed this simulation, explained the simulation and what it means for students to learn from simulation experience.

“Discovery Machine has historically worked in the department of defense focused on knowledge transfer and using virtual simulation to assist with that knowledge transfer,” said Griffith. “The Department of Defense is really on the cutting edge of how virtual simulation is used and the technology that has developed. Based on our research and work with the Department of Defense, we developed this product, ReSite, that can be used to very quickly author virtual simulations and capture expertise and invent that expertise in experiential-based learning through virtual simulation.”

The simulation allows instructors to create simulations that are less expensive and less time-consuming to produce.

“Virtual simulation does have some drawbacks,” said Griffith. “It can be very expensive and take a lot of time to create. What we’ve done with our products really cut down that time and made it so that it’s very affordable and time efficient to develop those situations and to get them to the people who need them very quickly.”

A senior student in the program, Will McKenzie, said students who are better at hands-on learning love the simulation.

“The general feedback from the students is they love it because it’s getting up there, getting hands-on, getting to see what it’s really going to be like in the field,” he said. “It’s kind of important to them.”

Chris Legarski, knowledge engineer at Discovery Machine Inc., helped develop the simulation. He said students get a better understanding of their craft while using the simulator.

“Throughout this whole process, the equipment is acting just like it would if there was a problem,” he said.

Griffith said one of the best ways to transfer knowledge from instructor to student is with life-like simulations.

“Learning from experience is a great way to go from being a novice to an expert,” she said. “The virtual simulations that are available now, these immersive 3-D that can be very realistic, are a great way to take stories and experiences from people who have been there and done that for many years and portray those in the immersive simulation.”

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