Students in Career Technology Education programs and on-the-job interns traditionally learn the tricks of the trade in classrooms or in the field. But thanks to a $1.49 million grant to provide virtual reality headsets and educational software, Mississippi State University’s Research and Curriculum Unit plans to add one more option.
Betsey Smith, RCU’s Director of Research and Curriculum, told The Dispatch that she and her team are in the sourcing phase of VR headsets with educational software to bring online curricula on topics ranging from health wellness and mechanical engineering to culinary arts and restaurant management into classrooms throughout the Golden Triangle.
“I’ve tested a number of tools in the past,” Smith said. “I got to see how to weld a bead, I got to tighten pipe fittings, I even got to work on some knife skills and culinary art (all via VR).”
Companies producing VR headsets and education modules can submit proposals to RCU through its website. Smith and her team will review the candidates in November and select a provider before finalizing the contract in December.
Once a contract is finalized, Smith said RCU will distribute the headsets to schools in Lowndes, Oktibbeha, Clay, Noxubee and Kemper counties, as well as the East Mississippi Community College campuses in Scooba and the Communiversity on Highway 82 west of Columbus. from spring 2023.
The headsets supplied to the school districts will go to the high school Cyber Foundations classes and the high school Career Technology Education programs, where students can access online courses in everything from the comfort of the classroom from the comfort of the classroom. metal fabrication to hospitality management. Combined, those headsets will provide more than 10,000 students with additional educational opportunities, Smith said.
“We have some students who don’t have the opportunity to go out and see what’s available out there,” said Pam Stafford, RCU’s deputy director of Business Operations. “This would open them up to a whole new world where they can see other opportunities available outside of their current location.”
Lenora Hogan, director of the Millsaps Career and Technical Center in the Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District, told The Dispatch that this isn’t the first time her school has used VR headsets. She said students benefit a lot from learning from real-world experiences without having to be there in person.
“Students could really see a profession at work,” Hogan said. “One example I was fascinated with was our health science class; they got the chance to actually have surgery and look at different things.”
The RCU will also provide headsets to the EMCC campuses, job and workforce development courses and training for employees in local industries. Industry partners with RCU are the international paper and motor manufacturer PACCAR in Columbus and the OCH Regional Medical Center in Starkville.
Particularly in hospitals, Smith said VR can train students in skills such as inserting an IV or stitching a wound.
OCH Human Resources Director Cynthia Travis said the medical center’s partnership with RCU provides excellent opportunities for the hospital’s ability to train its employees quickly and effectively.
“We believe that virtual reality training will significantly improve our current training methods to prepare our workforce with the skills needed for successful healthcare careers,” said Travis. “OCH has long recognized the benefits of partnering with MSU. The collaboration between OCH and MSU is a great example of how a community can benefit tremendously when organizations work together.”
In February, the RCU received funds from the Appalachian Regional Commission’s POWER grant program.
The Golden Triangle Development LINK has partnered with RCU by writing letters of support to ARC and will continue to help by providing a connection between the school and area industries, said Meryl Fisackerly, LINK’s Chief Operating Officer.
“The LINK is always proud to partner with the State of Mississippi and in the case of RCU,” said Fisackerly. “For the grant, the LINK will serve as the RCU’s connection to industries in the area once the grant is implemented.”
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