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Immersive Learning Platforms - Development of Educational Simulations Based on Food Processing


The proposed project is aimed at developing computer-based immersive learning platforms of selected food processing plants that will provide highly engaging contents for learning food science. For food safety, it is essential that the workforce in the modern food industry is fully versed in how various vectors that create hazardous situations proliferate in a food processing plant. In a typical curriculum, students learn the basic microbiology and chemistry of such hazards; they often do not get any meaningful opportunity to synthesize such topics in a setting that mimics a food processing plant. In the past, many universities offered stand-alone courses on food processing with extensive laboratory (pilot-plant) experience and factory tours. However due to lack of resources, limited space and faculty time, many institutions have abandoned such valuable experiences for students. The proposed project is focused on creating virtual food processing plants, which will provide students with engaging platforms where they will learn how to integrate knowledge gained from different basic sciences to processing foods with required levels of food safety and quality. We will develop immersive simulations of food processing plants for use in a variety of courses from freshman to senior level. The use of proposed simulations in instruction will enhance student engagement in learning and improve the quality of food science education. <P>The overall goal of this project is to develop Internet-mediated immersive learning platforms for use in teaching food processing. To meet this goal, the focus will be to develop highly engaging student-centered educational contents. Specific objectives of this project are as follows: <ol><LI>Develop immersive simulations of three food processing plants namely, brewery, dairy and a tomato cannery. <LI> Integrate multidisciplinary educational contents into simulations with introductory, intermediate, and advanced level that would be suitable for freshman to senior level students enrolled in the food science curriculum. <LI> Assess the effectiveness of using immersive simulations in teaching food science. </ol>Expected Outputs: <BR>Products: Three processing plant simulations (brewery, dairy, and cannery) <BR>Results: New materials will be available to instructors teaching food chemistry, food microbiology, sensory science, engineering/processing for use as homework, group projects, or laboratory assignments. <BR>Outcomes: undergraduate students will be the major beneficiaries of the results. The proposed immersive simulations will increase the availability of innovative and highly engaging instructional materials for all food science programs in the United States and overseas. Use of these materials will improve food science education with an emphasis on food safety and quality.

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NON-TECHNICAL SUMMARY: While hands-on laboratory experiments are most effective in learning new scientific concepts and testing novel hypotheses, many experiments in food processing are time consuming. Limited time available in a typical laboratory period does not permit thorough examination of process variables. These constraints force instructors to demonstrate a process without being able to engage students in investigating the various possibilities. Such demands on faculty time and resources have forced many institutions to seriously curtail teaching such courses. Similarly factory tours and field trips are rarely undertaken. Yet it is undeniable that operation of a food processing equipment offers the most engaging environment for a student to learn the "why" and "how" of a process and its underlying mechanisms that impact the ultimate safety of a product. Such experiential experiences offer excellent opportunities to observe and analyze the connections between the process carried out with a processing equipment and what is learnt in a basic science course such as physics, chemistry or microbiology. Today's students are extremely computer savvy. According to a recent study from the Pew Internet and American Life project, more than one-half of all teens have created media content, and roughly one-third of teens who use the Internet have shared content they produced. Electronic gadgets relying on the Internet are becoming ubiquitous. During the past decade, computer games have become increasingly popular as a source of entertainment for younger generation (and even senior citizens!). In this rapidly changing environment, students now expect any educational product that relies on multi-media technologies to have the fidelity that is being provided by the entertainment industry. Production of high-end products for use in education has remained limited due to the high cost of software and related resources. Fortunately, during the last 2-3 years many of the software used in producing animation movies for the screen are now being offered for educational purposes at heavy discount (e.g. Mayar is now sold for around $400 for educational purpose, it originally cost >$10,000). Furthermore, a large resource of animated graphic clip-art has been created by the Internet community and is now becoming easily available at affordable cost. It is therefore timely to develop high fidelity, computer-based, educational content that is highly engaging yet effective in its delivery. To further this goal, this project proposes developing contents in the format of an immersive simulation of a food processing plant. In an immersive simulation, a user is kept highly engaged as each successful action results in a potential reward to advance to higher level; the problems presented in these scenarios require answers to science-based questions and similar to what an employee may face in a food processing plant. The questions can be framed based on the educational background of the student. Simulations may be customized for students at any level in their undergraduate curricula: freshman to the senior. <P>APPROACH: This project involves developing three comprehensive educational simulations. Each simulation is envisioned to provide a student with a high-end virtual experience of working in a food processing plant, namely, brewery, dairy and a tomato cannery. This project requires merging simulation, animation and game technologies with appropriate pedagogical content. The steps involved in preparing these different components are described in the following. For the purpose of illustrating the concept, we will focus on a brewery simulation. It should be noted that similar approach will be used for a dairy processing plant and a tomato cannery. In developing learning platforms, one of our challenges will be in blending the different elements of any simulation; namely, simulation elements, pedagogical elements, and game elements. Yet these three components are the key to an engaging environment useful for our purposes. Therefore, we will require expertise of a programmer for simulation and game elements, artist for graphic illustrations and animation, and post-doctoral scholar for pedagogical content from science-based subjects. As noted previously, this required expertise is available at Mediaworks, UC Davis. We will use the following software for developing the proposed immersive learning platforms a)Autodesk Maya: 3D modeling and animation b)Unity 3D: Game technology, modeling and animation c)Adobe Flash (Actionscript) A student using the simulation will discover the principles of food science as applied in a real-world setting of the selected food processing plant. For the brewery simulation, the following groupings of the processing steps will be treated as game levels, including: Level One: Malting, Milling, Mashing and Extract Separation Level Two: Hop Addition and Boiling, Removal of Hops and Precipitates Level Three: Cooling and Aeration Level Four: Fermentation, Separation of Yeasts Level Five: Aging, Maturing and Packaging For each Level, pedagogical elements will be incorporated with different level of challenge. In simulating a brewery, we observe that it is easy to incorporate multidisciplinary topics. Engaging questions from various fields of study representing a typical undergraduate curriculum in food science may be included, for example, production agriculture, chemistry, biochemistry, microbiology, engineering/processing technologies, sensory science, marketing, ethics, and social relevance. We will use the following assessments to gain an insight into changes in conceptual understanding of food processing topics with and without immersive simulations. Accurate measurement of conceptual changes will be made by assessing students in both control and immersive simulation groups by giving pre and post tests. This approach will provide a conceptual change score for both experimental and control groups. A comparison of these scores will provide the basis for determining how effective the immersive simulations are in improving instruction.

University of California - Davis
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