Some university courses can move online easily, but what about subjects involving machinery, materials and complex construction, where students would normally work in a workshop, lab or building site? Karelia University used ThingLink to bridge the gap!
Karelia University of Applied Sciences is located in the city of Joensuu, eastern Finland and runs courses to bachelor and masters level in seven fields. Within the field of civil engineering, their special area of expertise is wood construction. When Covid restrictions on university teaching were introduced, tutor Ville Mertanen, Project Specialist in Wood Construction, had to quickly create an introduction to all the workshop machinery which students would be using regularly when back on-site.
The virtual workshop
It’s vital that engineering students fully understand the operating rules and features of each piece of machinery – for their own safety and that of their classmates. So to ensure his students were ready to enter the workshop when restrictions were lifted, Ville created a virtual workshop. He used a 360 camera to take interior shots of the space, which were used to create a Thinglink, linking individual studios with the tour tag. In each studio he added tags to each workstation, containing videos of his own detailed introductions. Additional tags included a PDF summary and use guidelines.
Ville noted that his students were far more engaged with the instructional content when it was presented in ThingLink. Plus, he could see that adding the information in a number of different accessible ways ensured equal access for students from different backgrounds and with different learning styles and preferences. “If we had presented it in slides, their attention could have lasted perhaps 30 minutes. Now, they are following it better and discussing it.”
Proof of learning
In real-life teaching environments, it can often be difficult to ascertain whether every student has seen, heard and fully understood the instructions. But embedded in the Karelia ThingLink is a comprehension test the student must sit, marked individually by a course tutor. A pass is required to earn your physical permit to the workshop; without it no student can enter. So the ThingLink provides all the learning materials as well as the proof of learning itself – the whole package.
What else can it do?
The platform proved so successful that many students as well as other Karelia UAS tutors began using it themselves to create presentations. And having started using ThingLink to present and examine workshop-based learning, Ville realised it was also the best way to show his students around all the innovative construction projects in Joensuu when they couldn’t visit in person.
Ville Mertanen, Project Specialist in Wood Construction at Karelia University of Applied Sciences
Site visits go online
Research, development and innovation (RDI) activities are key to the university’s work, and for Ville’s students this means visiting some of the city’s unique and ground-breaking wooden buildings – some complete and some under construction. Completed sites include the Lighthouse – Finland’s highest wooden building, Kerubi stadium – the largest wooden stadium in the country, and Joensuu Arena – which was Finland’s largest wooden building when it was constructed.
One site that the students would also have visited in person pre-Covid is a new school under construction. Ville created a ThingLink “walk-through” tour of the school including a number of 360 images, which was then presented to groups of students online via Teams. The school’s head teacher used the 360 tour to present the project herself, despite being completely new to the platform – testament to ThingLink’s simplicity and built-in ease of use. “I think it worked as well as going into the real building”, says Ville of this new approach.
The world comes to Joensuu – via ThingLink
The successful trial and positive feedback he received from students after using ThingLink in this way convinced Ville that it could be used as a viable alternative to a forthcoming international construction conference.
Karelia UAS works with international networks throughout many Asian, African, European, and North- and South-American countries. Pre-Covid, civil engineers would have been travelling to Joensuu in June 2021 for an international conference, visiting the city’s famous wooden constructions. Instead Ville will be using the 360 tours he has created in ThingLink to provide site visits virtually instead.
He has identified a number of interconnected benefits to this approach, for both organisers and delegates:
- In countries like Finland where distances between sites can be huge, virtual tours cut down on travel time and thus expense for delegates; more sites can be fitted in per day and per event.
- Safety briefings, protective equipment protocols and refreshments can easily extend a 30 minute site visit into a 2-3 hour event in real life – limiting the number of sites that can be visited per day. Many more can be presented via a virtual tour.
- Real life site visits may require workers on site to pause or moderate their work during each visit; virtual visits can take place with no interruptions to the site team.
- Despite safety precautions, there is still an element of risk to visitors on-site from machinery, noise and dust. Noise on-site can make it difficult for some visitors to hear, particularly in a large group. Virtual site visits ensure accessibility for all.
Whilst in-person conferences will resume when allowed, the ThingLink tours provide a valuable and convenient alternative for those who for any reason are unable to attend but who would like to learn from these extraordinary wood-build projects. Ville is now experimenting with using 360 videos to create narrated, immersive walk-throughs of the sites, to supplement the 360 image-based tours. Meanwhile using ThingLink to assess his students’ knowledge of workshop machinery has changed this part of the course permanently:
“We won’t go back to what we had – you can add in so much more information – in so many different ways.”
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