Project Canary - Transforming safety training with serious games

Project Canary was one of the most exciting things that I saw at LearnX 09.  I had the chance to do a short video interview (with shaky camera work)  with Deanna Hutchison from the Mining Industry Skills Centre.

Deanna also talked at the conference and below is a bit of summary and some of my own thoughts about the project.

Project Canary is about transforming safety training in mining, through using leading edge 3D simulations. There is a real need for safer working practices in the Australian mining industry. Last year alone, there were 10 deaths in the industry.  That is more than Australaia's war casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq combined. (http://www.awm.gov.au/research/infosheets/war_casualties.asp). Just for a moment, think about how much defense spends on learning and training.

Death by PowerPoint

What the mining industry is doing currently is death by PowerPoint. Deanna had one story of a mine induction where they have streamlined their induction process from 800 slides to 400 slides. The main type of testing was paper-based multiple choice questions. 
What the industry is finding is that people may know what they should do, but they don't always do it. It is not embedded into their hearts and     minds.

Their solution was to look at how 3D simulations could work for them.

Simulations are extensively used in defense, where the skills needed are often a combination of kinesthetic skills and thinking; where learning is a matter of developing almost an unconscious response to problems. 

The first simulation that has been developed is based on a workshop cleanup. The learner wanders around the workshop looking for hazards. When they find something wrong they choose the hazard and then they choose how they going to deal with that hazard.

They might find a chemical spill. They then select that, and then they can choose to turn off the taps or put sponges over to soak up the chemical spill. They can put on their personal protective devices and have a look at the material data sheets.

There is no set order in which they do these things. They can move around the workshop freely. Very much like a workplace.

The learning model for working with the simulation is for it to be facilitated. The idea is that a facilitator or trainer would be sitting next to a learner watching them doing the simulation.  As the trainer is watching the learner in the simulation, if the learner does something completely wrong, that's when the facilitator gives feedback to the learner on what they've done wrong.

The system actually doesn't have any feedback built into it. This is quite different from a lot of gamebased environments where you have got the feedback happening through your score.

I do wonder if not having feedback built in breaks the fidelity of it as a simulation. What it means is that a learner could mop up a chemical spill without any gloves on and there would be no consequences.  Maybe the fidelity of the simulation is broken by not having some of that sort feedback built in.  I think the feedback needs to be about the safety aspect and how people can be hurt if they make those mistakes. Maybe I've got this wrong.

Some of problems experienced in the project.

Technical Problems

The technical developers were used to working with really tight specifications often from the defense industries, where a customer would come to them and say, "We want a simulation to do A, B and C and C.2345 is going to work in such and such a way." The specifications were extremely detailed. The developers hadn't been through a complete design process like Project Canary before.  Because this was a new project for the mining industry, they hadn't been through this before and they also didn't realize what type of specifications they needed to have.

There were also some interesting issues around using the VBS they are using.  The engine was built for military use. At one stage you could actually eject from a forklift truck. The forklift truck had been modified from being a fighter plane and that behavior hadn't been stopped.  Another hassle was that to start with, every time someone stopped moving they went to draw a gun.  In the long term that engine will allow them to be able to develop multi-user simulations.  In the long term there are plans for simulations of full mine emergencies with multiple learners responding in real time to the emergency situation.

Cultural Change and Learning Design

The larger barrier is that the real aim is to transform learning experiences in the industry. They're having problems around the learning design because it's a free form space with no built in structure to experience. It's hard to build lesson plans for something which people might actually approach radically differently. My thought is that the solution is to apply an experience learning simulation based around Kolb theories.
The cultural problem is around allowing workers to learn by making mistakes and learn by experience.

As the project overcomes these barriers, the end result is learning faster and more effectively to become safer in the workplace.  The project is a great example of simulations and experience based learning.

There is more information at http://www.projectcanary.com/