Monday, 19 December 2011

Virtual Training

Sometimes inspiration can come from some of the most unexpected places!

When I invited Bex Ferriday to come and present to the KIN Winter Workshop in 2010, my main concern was that maybe a foray into the virtual world of Second Life was just a step too far for most of our members. Would it be really relevant to them?
And so I was delighted to find that one of our members was sufficiently inspired that his organisation have now reached the prototype stage of virtual training ‘game’ that came about as a direct result of the presentation given that day.

The extract from the flyer for the day read:
“Bex Ferriday of Corwnall College will showcase their work on the use of virtual worlds for training and education using Second Life to bring Bloom's Learning Taxonomy and Wenger's Community of Practice model to life. Students can move about the diagram, voting literally with their (virtual) feet about where they (or their chosen topic) stands on the taxonomy – and so remember the model with their spatial and episodic memory, as well as their semantic memory".

It turns out that the member in question, Dave Holley, is quite a story teller . So here’s Dave’s story in his own words.

I’m not a knowledge manager as such. In fact I’m what every knowledge manager hates, a technical expert in a subject who’s managed to keep what he knows locked in his head for the past thirty years and not written anything down. It’s true I’ve managed to pass some material onto others the way it was passed onto me - via a mixture of practical teaching and coaching. But the opportunities for teaching in a hands on fashion are getting few and far between. You’re not allowed mistakes anymore!

I learned because my bosses took the time to teach me. Good fellows, all of them. And I had the good grace to listen and remember. The sorcerers taught their apprentices who in turn became sorcerers in their own right and trained yet more willing volunteers, expanding the knowledge in the domain as we went. We also learned by getting it wrong and were given sufficient rope to do so. It seems in this litigious business driven age both time and rope are in short supply.

A man from Rolls Royce had told us that you may know what the ingredients are in a cake but you may not possess the knowledge to turn the ingredients into something that is a delight on the palate. It’s a similar thing when making pyrotechnics, my particular field of expertise. It’s a matter of understanding the mixing of powders and using the tricks of the trade to install them into a device that works.

Story telling has always been a favourite method of mine for getting the message across and one or two horror tales with something of a funny twist will help some of the lessons learned over the years stick in someone else’s head. There have been various knowledge hubs, wikis and ask the expert concepts presented by other KIN members but the written word can be so, well, bland!

I’d started to write down my stories and tales of the unexpected. So far they are some 85 pages long, each hyperlinked to the 160 odd lessons generated. The stories tell of escaping purple smoke grenades, an accidental call out of the coastguard in the Largs Channel, the mischievous use of thunder flashes, and fitters with their trousers alight but how do you get this across to the audience that needs it?

Then came the “light bulb” moment.

During Bex’s presentation I found myself visualising what could be a serious advance in the training of staff who handle explosives and other hazardous substances for a living. Could I obtain the same degree of communication and knowledge exchange with an “Ask the wizard” type game? The building blocks would be different but the thought of building an interactive asset with the power to virtually link the apprentice with the sorcerer became very appealing. Sorcerer here, meaning any technical expert, manufacturing expert or safety official. I’ve seen this type of character in some of the kids’ adventure games. If your progress up to the next level is blocked you can “go and ask Gandalf” how you move onto the next phase. This was one facet of the proposed game but we needed to get our “apprentices” exposed, albeit virtually, to some of the hazards and manufacture and rules of the game.

I drew on another link for the next part.

I coach cricket and sort of made the connection with ‘having an incident’ and ‘getting out’. The kids who played virtual cricket on the X-box, Wii and Play Station were actually getting better at the real game. The shot selection in particular (even the “leave”!) was improving. They had “made” themselves as avatars in the games and were progressing well as a result. When it came to a real net they were imitating the shapes made by the avatars in the game to good effect.

There were rules to obey. Just as there are when handling explosives. There were precautions you’d take so you didn’t get “out” - just as you do with handling explosives - and equipment that protected you if you did get hit. So how do you put the game together? I started by playing with some fault tree software building up a fault tree for the cricket scenario. Play the wrong shot to the wrong delivery and you increase your chances of a mistake and you end up getting out.

Similarly with explosives and other hazardous materials. Each has a particular set of sensitiveness characteristics and if mistreated and handled inappropriately they will catch you out - sometimes with disastrous consequences. Now I can build my fault tree for a particular handling process.

Our initial forays into the game proper have taken us as far as the Serious Games Institute at Coventry University. A demonstrator has now been created and we move on from there, developing each scenario as we go.

I recently saw a demo of the application and it's looking very impressive. It just goes to show that sometimes even the most left-field of presentations can spark a flash of inspiration.
Thanks for sharing, Dave!

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