How this polytechnic is teaching students to fix planes with VR

By Sean Nolan

Interview with Boey Chee Kin, Assistant Director/Digitalisation & Innovation, Learning Academy, Temasek Polytechnic, Singapore.

Covid-19 may have paused field trips, but students at Temasek Polytechnic are using VR to remove that barrier. Aspiring aerospace engineers can hone their practical skills by getting up close and personal with virtual plane engines.

Covid-19 has challenged polytechnics to find new ways of providing practical skills. They have responded by adopting new tech tools for immersive learning, like using virtual reality to give aerospace engineering students a hands-on experience.

Boey Chee Kin, Assistant Director/Digitalisation & Innovation, Learning Academy, Temasek Polytechnic, Singapore discusses how data analytics, AI, and VR can help provide pandemic-proof learning.

Field trips with VR

Students can use VR to take part in virtual field trips, enabling them to have up-close experiences with training equipment. For example, aerospace engineering students can use the technology to perform maintenance on aircraft landing gear and fuel systems.

They also learn how to start an engine from rest using VR. The tool can be useful for students who need access to training equipment that is expensive or unavailable, Boey highlights.

Singapore’s schools are similarly transporting students to inaccessible places with VR. Historic sites like the Amazon rainforest are among the locations available for virtual visits, Aaron Loh, Divisional Director, Educational Technology, MOE Singapore, told GovInsider.

VR tools provide the opportunity for students to learn in a new way. The immersive tech can take concepts like molecule structures and geometric shapes and represent them as virtual objects in the classroom, Loh continues.

Using data for new ways of teaching

The polytechnic’s lecturers use data analytics to support students during remote learning. Data analytics can identify learning gaps that students are struggling with and enables lecturers to provide almost real-time follow ups, he explains.

AI algorithms also intervene to help student learning. It can look at students’ quiz results and direct them to learning resources in areas where they are not performing well, Boey shares. This creates a “personalised learning path for students” based on their progress, he adds.

When the pandemic struck, it “pushed our staff to develop their digital capabilities” in order to “effectively deliver lessons online”, he shares.

The polytechnic created a 20-hour upskilling programme, where teachers learn how to design a follow up with students driven by analytics. Other areas of the programme include turning numerical data into visual images and understanding who owns different data, Boey continues.

Lessons from the pandemic

Looking ahead to a post-pandemic world, the polytechnic is reconsidering what the most effective form of learning will look like. It is already weighing up which activities are better done face-to-face, and which are better done online, Boey highlights.

The polytechnic is also exploring how students are going to be assessed in a post-pandemic future. Soft skills like problem solving, resourcefulness, self-direction and social skills are becoming more important in preparing students for life after graduation, he says.

The polytechnic will adopt a hybrid learning approach where students will have the flexibility to join lessons in person or virtually. Recordings of lessons will also be made available online. This is relevant in the “current context where students may have to be isolated at home or recover from Covid”, Boey shares.

Educational institutions are not letting the Covid-19 pandemic get in the way of developing hands-on skills. VR technology is enabling students to get up close and personal with training equipment, while lecturers learn how to support students in real time with data analytics.