Training at school, safety in the workplace, Turkey: Finalist of Innovative Teaching and Learning Award 2022
Virtual Reality for a Safer World
When Adem Kaplan graduated from Ankara’s Gazi University Department of Electrical/Electronics Teaching he could have taken a high-earning job in industry, but instead he decided to return to the same Vocational and Education Training (VET) school in Sivas where he went himself.
“I loved the school, and the teachers were well-qualified and good at their jobs,” he says. “I felt passionately about continuing in the same field, serving the school and giving the students a better future.”
Sadly, Turkey ranks above European Union (EU) countries in terms of fatal occupational accidents, even though it has the same Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) standards. Specifically, 80% of occupational accidents occur due to people’s own errors, 18% to physical and environmental conditions, and 2% to unexpected events; meaning that most accidents can be prevented.
“This is why it is mandatory to teach OHS in all Turkish VET schools, but the traditional presentation methods we used previously left the students, aged 14-18, bored and unmotivated,” says Kaplan. “And consequently, students went out to work without having assimilated the rules.”
So, Kaplan applied for and won an EU grant to establish an Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) laboratory for OHS training at his school. “We decided to radically change our teaching methods by creating a VR lab and giving students VR glasses,” he says.
Beyond the 200 students and eight technical teachers at Sivas VET High School who are receiving the training, Kaplan has also offered the classes to 100 employees in electrical enterprises operating in the city. And as soon as is possible his project will be extended to all teachers and students at Sivas VET high school, any workplace linked with Sivas Chamber of Electricians, and every VET school in the vicinity. Currently, however, the project is restricted by limited physical space: “In a typical class we have enough room for only four students to use the VR glasses at a time, while the others study the information they will need either from wall charts or via their tablets,” he says.
Classes begin with students being provided with technical information, which is followed by them being ‘placed’, via the VR glasses, in one of four scenarios: (a) on a construction site (b) at an electricity sub-station (c) a high voltage pole, and (d) in a workshop with a 360º perspective. “In each case, students have to enter and apply the rules by, for example, choosing the correct helmet, footwear and gloves,” Kaplan explains. “In some exercises, they must identify what is potentially dangerous, and then use a green laser to highlight the problem to score points. The whole process is monitored by teachers who, via large TV screens, can see what the students are looking at.”
Learning is consolidated because of the stimulating pedagogy and the visceral response to the scenarios. “Students feel the danger in these situations, as if they are working in real life. In one exercise students are required to act appropriately, for example, when climbing a high voltage pole to fix a problem,” he says. “In fact, we have found that many students shout with excitement during our training sessions. Others ask me ‘when will it be our turn?’”
Students are given a second chance if they make mistakes, but generally they are so highly motivated to learn and progress that they complete the tasks quickly and successfully. “We give the best student in each class a real helmet, safety gloves or boots as a reward,” Kaplan says.
The VR glasses cost around 400 euros each, while the software was designed by a local company for about 40,000 euros. 90% of that investment came from an EU grant, and the remainder from internal school funding. “There is no problem in disseminating the training, as we provide our VR glasses to other schools,” says Kaplan. “On the other hand, our school owns the OHS software property rights, which means that we can distribute it free of charge to any school that wants it.”
The project has generated considerable interest from Kaplan’s colleagues, as well as lecturers and students in other schools and universities. Furthermore, he has been contacted by large local enterprises that want to use the school’s facilities to give their own OHS training.
“We have no doubts about the sustainability of our VR lab.,” says Kaplan, “because it is compulsory for our 1,500 high school students to take OHS training. Plus, we are planning to produce our own VR software by adding VR software courses to the curriculum of our school's IT [Information technology] department.”
The project is primarily aimed at reducing accidents at work, but Kaplan has a bigger goal in mind. “Our students often come from poor backgrounds and their training is not highly respected in Turkey,” he says. “I would like to boost their self-confidence and change how people perceive VET students in the future.”