This work in progress will explore technology-aided education in the form of a virtual reality tool used to support learning outcomes in a chemical engineering capstone course. Virtual reality (VR) has the ability to immerse users in a simulated environment and provide them with experiential learning opportunities. Alhalabi found that when a VR tool was used by medical students, scores on quizzes that evaluated knowledge, cognitive skills, mathematics skills and the understanding of graphics and charts were reported to be significantly higher than scores reported in a control group that did not experience the VR aided education. [W. Alhalabi, “Virtual reality systems enhance students’ achievements in engineering education,” Behaviour & Information Technology, vol. 35, no. 11, pp. 919–925, 2016.]. Most undergraduate Chemical Engineering students are required to design a chemical plant for their capstone design project without ever having visited or interacted with a full-scale processing plant and could benefit from the immersive experience that the VR tool would offer, similarly to the medical students in the above study. This study will be conducted over a two year period from September 2019 to May 2021. During the first year, surveys will be conducted while an interactive VR chemical processing plant is being developed. The first year’s surveys will establish a baseline that evaluates how learning outcomes are being met by the course without technology. During the second year, the surveys will be given again in conjunction with the VR educational tool. The tool will give students the ability to view and interact with the unit operations inside a chemical processing plant without special training, expensive protective equipment, and security clearance. Students will complete a number of challenges in VR and will be evaluated on their comprehension and invited to provide feedback on the effectiveness of the VR tool. The effects of VR on student comprehension, retention, and chemical processing design competency will be evaluated based on the data collected. This paper will discuss the initial design of the VR chemical processing plant, data from the non-VR cohort and a description of the research methods to be used during the final portion of the research. A beta version of the VR chemical processing plant will be avilible for demonstration.
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