Staff create virtual house for trades instructors

A custom-made tool helps students transition from theory to job site

There was a time when building a house at NAIT struck some trades instructors as an excellent idea.

Imagine: a full-scale lab to show students how different systems interact – including plumbing, heating, cooling, ventilation and electrical. But because of space, cost, time and effort, it was more pipedream than possibility. So, no house.

Not a real one, anyway.

About three years ago, staff at NAIT’s Learning and Teaching Commons (LTC) educational technology team responded to an alternative idea from Electrician instructor Kent Knaus. Could he have a virtual house that would connect classroom concepts to the real thing in a new and nearly tangible way?

“You can theoretically teach code,” says Knaus, referring to the rules around placement and installation of the components that make up, say,  a house’s electrical system. The trouble is conceptualizing and applying it. “The goal is to put students in an environment where you can take code and make it come alive.”

“The goal is to put students in an environment where you can take code and make it come alive.”

To do that, LTC interactive developer Jon Page (Multimedia Technology ’01) and multimedia developer Animesh Jha obtained plans for a contemporary Edmonton home and began working with instructors from various trades to develop software from scratch.

“There was a lot of collaboration,” says Page. “The experts sat down at our desks for many days.”

The outcome is a virtual house through which users can move and explore. They can toggle between views of electrical, plumbing and HVAC systems, and see any or all simultaneously among wall studs or as receptacles in finished walls or vents in berber carpet. Other than furnishings, “Everything you could have in a house is in there,” says  Page, right down to the staples pinning wires to wood.

“Every [electrical] box and pipe, they’re all built by us,” adds Jha. A built-in measuring tool helps students check whether distances between those boxes and pipes are, in fact, up to code.

“Jon and [Jha] became first-year code gurus in electrical,” says Knaus.

Instructors are currently using the virtual house as a teaching tool in their classes. There may be no place like home but, from a practical standpoint, this may actually be better.

“It’s a tool that we look at as having endless capabilities,” says Knaus. “We’ll use it to the max.”

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