Process safety has become a critical component of chemical engineering education. However, students may find it difficult to fully understand the ramifications of decisions they make during classroom exercises due to their lack of real world experience. Use of an immersive digital environment where students could role play as chemical engineering employees making process safety decisions could be one method of achieving this goal. Through this experience, students could observe the outcomes of their decisions in a safe, controlled environment without the disastrous real-world consequences that could come from making a mistake. This digital environment could have further features, such as time constraints or interactions with other characters, to make the experience feel more authentic than an in-class discussion or case study.
In order to evaluate the efficacy of such a virtual environment, a portion of this work centered around the creation of the Engineering Process Safety Research Instrument (EPSRI). The instrument asks participants to evaluate process safety dilemmas and rank a set of considerations based on how influential they were in their decision-making process. The instrument then classifies each decision based on the stages of Kohlberg’s moral development theory, ranging from pre-conventional (i.e. more self-centered) thinking to post-conventional (i.e. more global) thinking. This instrument will be used to assess how students’ thinking about process safety decisions changes as a result of engaging in the virtual safety decision making environment.
This paper will summarize the progress since the project’s start in summer 2017, highlighting the work completed in development and validation of the EPSRI. This process included content validation, think-aloud studies to improve clarity of the instrument, and factor analysis based on a large scale implementation at multiple universities. The paper will also discuss the development of the minimum viable product digital process safety experience, including establishment of learning outcomes and the mechanics that reinforce those outcomes. By presenting these findings, we intend to spread awareness of the EPSRI, which can evaluate the safety decisions of chemical engineering students while having the potential to launch discussions about safety and ethics in other engineering disciplines. We also hope that these results will provide educators with insights into how to translate educational objectives to elements of a digital learning environment through collaboration with digital media companies.
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