Researchers Receive Funding to Study Virtual Reality Use for AM Education

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Researchers at Penn State University (PSU) will study how virtual reality could aid in distance learning for additive manufacturing.

Researchers in the College of Engineering at Penn State University (PSU) have been awarded a Center for Online Innovation in Learning (COIL) grant to investigate virtual reality to aid in distance additive manufacturing (AM) education. The research will compare learning outcomes for different virtual and physical learning environments to discover whether virtual reality could help alleviate expenses and facility requirements for training new AM practitioners.

“Using Virtual Reality to Enhance Distance Education for Additive Manufacturing,” a research initiative led by Nicholas Meisel, Emmert H. Bashore Faculty Development Professor and assistant professor of engineering and mechanical engineering, will explore the use of an immersive virtual reality environment for online additive manufacturing education. The virtual reality setting will allow for increased accessibility to training.

“While desktop-scale 3D printing is becoming more ubiquitous, there are many higher-end systems that require a significant amount of infrastructure and expertise to house and operate,” Meisel says. “Virtual reality technology gives us the chance to let students interact with these complex systems in locations where they might not otherwise have direct, physical access.”

The research will compare learning outcomes for students trained with an interactive virtual reality additive manufacturing environment versus students trained using the physical form of the exact same additive manufacturing equipment, and students using virtual reality for real-time observation of additive manufacturing systems versus students using virtual reality to interact with the computer-designed copy of the system.

The results of this study will help provide additive manufacturing educators with the necessary information to create best practices for online additive manufacturing education.

“Online education options are a crucial part of rapidly growing the much-needed additive manufacturing workforce. As new online additive manufacturing degree options become available, like Penn State’s new master’s degree in additive manufacturing and design, instructors must be able to effectively convey the complexities of additive manufacturing technology with students in a virtual space,” Meisel says.

Conrad Tucker, associate professor of engineering design and industrial engineering, and Timothy Simpson, Paul Morrow Professor of Engineering Design and Manufacturing and director of the additive manufacturing and design graduate program, serve as co-principal investigators on the project.

Penn State created the Center for Online Innovation in Learning (COIL) in 2012 as a cross-discipline research and development center focused on building and sustaining a culture of innovation. COIL engages the University’s extensive research enterprise across multiple disciplines in order to improve learning through online innovations at and beyond Penn State. COIL is sponsored and supported by Outreach and Online Education; the College of Education; and the College of Information, Sciences and Technology; and Information Technology Services at Penn State.

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