Immersive learning: when technology and industry knowledge meet

A few years back, our ‘Planning and Managing Major Incidents’ unit was evidenced primarily through worksheets. Students learned and demonstrated the theory well, but I wanted the learning experience to echo the dynamic, high-pressure realities of industry. I spent some time with the ambulance service, who have a simulation room at their training centre, and was inspired to create my own - tailor-made for the units we teach on the course.

A dynamic learning space

From the moment students enter the room, they are immersed in the simulation. Firstly, a couple of students take on the role of call handlers. Once in the room, they receive a call from one of their peers - who is observing via a live feed in another classroom - reporting a major incident, such as a traffic collision or train derailment. The students really embrace the scenario and get into character, so the calls can be very panicked and emotion-driven, meaning the call-handlers have to use their soft skills to support the individual whilst taking the information accurately and efficiently.

As soon as the call - which is made using Google Hangouts - ends, the recording saves and stores on a private YouTube channel, which can later be used for evidence. Next, the students receive a M/ETHANE report, which is a model the services use to declare major incidents. This could be via the radios or the JESIP app, as per industry standards. Once they’ve received all the information, a student will act as a dispatcher - deciding which services need to be allocated and briefing individuals in the boardroom. Students then go straight to tabletop planning. Learners decide what assets need to go towards securing the environment, where to place cordons, where casualty systems will be formed and so on. The planning is facilitated by collaborative working in a shared Google document. Students, working on tablets, arrange civil protection common map symbology on the map and draw their cordons - all whilst the live document is projected onto the boardroom table. 

To keep the scenarios immersive and realistic, we throw in interventions - for example, irate callers asking why their ambulance hasn’t arrived yet or local hospitals reporting they have no more beds and casualties will need to be diverted elsewhere. The whole scenario - from the initial call to the group debrief and evaluation - is recorded via the cameras and can then be used for reflection and evidence of achievement. 

Embedding employability skills

The scenarios are high-pressured which demands vigilance, problem solving and adaptability from our students. One of the most rewarding aspects of the project for me has been watching individuals develop their leadership qualities; seeing a student who would get flustered towards the beginning become calm and resilient under pressure. 

The room, by design, also embeds digital skills in a way which is meaningful and applicable for the services. The digital world and communications play a big part in both directing and supporting how the public services function - it’s only right that our learners have the opportunity to develop such skills on the course.

Pushing forward - the course and the wider college

The room has enriched the teaching and learning experience for students, providing an immersive, adaptable space for experiential learning. It’s drawn lots of positive attention from further afield; we’ve had colleges and universities from across the country, and even the public services themselves, come to view it. We developed some mock newsreels with the Digital Team - which are displayed in the planning room, adding to the immediacy of the scenarios - and the services are now using these in their training facilities. It’s also enhanced our profile within the local region and given the Public Services course, and our students, something truly unique.

James Booty, Course Director for Public Services, Basingstoke College of Technology 

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