Central Carolina Technical College, Clemson partnership to use virtual reality training

Project looks to fill workforce need for water operators

August 4, 2022

Author: Bruce Mills / bruce@theitem.com

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The world of learning is moving more and more to digital technology, and Central Carolina Technical College is staying on the cutting edge of it to help fill a need for water treatment operators.

Central Carolina and Clemson University announced a collaboration recently to enhance educational opportunities for water operators through virtual reality training that will upgrade curriculum and resources, according to Josh Castleberry, dean of workforce development and the S.C. Environmental Training Center at the college, who spoke last week.

Researchers are calling the collaboration Water DROPS, short for Developing Resources for Water OPeratorS. The project’s mission is to increase the quality and capacity of training essential to meet the nation’s growing need for skilled water operators.

Up until now, the state Environmental Training Center, which is housed at CCTC, has trained and tested individuals for water treatment operator licensure credentials via short schools/continuing education here in Sumter, onsite facility training and via online resources.

Moving forward, that reach will broaden through engaging and dynamic learning using virtual reality modules, which are similar to a modern-day video game, Castleberry said.

Traditional learning to include reading a textbook chapter, answering and submitting questions and then waiting for feedback from an instructor could be called “static learning,” he said.

VR, instead, creates an environment in which to do the work, he noted.

“With the Virtual Reality module, it’s not static,” Castleberry said. “It’s dynamic. You are engaged in it at that moment, and you can get explicit feedback immediately.”

Clemson faculty will develop the modules for CCTC’s use.

The partnership has received $650,000 in funding over a three-year project period from the National Science Foundation.

Castleberry said year 1 is basically development and getting the project off the ground. Year 2 is implementation of the modules, and then year 3 will include evaluation.

VR learning and training has worked well previously with aviation programs and also occupational safety, he said.

Researchers estimate at least 50,000 water treatment operators in the nation will retire in the next five years. That is about half of the profession.

The new digital learning will include virtual labs that students and professionals can access anywhere, anytime.

“Through this partnership in digital learning and VR, we are casting our net a little bit wider,” Castleberry said. “It’s another way to reach the students and another tool in the toolbox. It’s going to augment what we are currently doing.”

Josh Castleberry, Central Carolina Technical College’s dean of workforce development and the S.C. Environmental Training Center, discusses virtual reality training in his office recently. Photo by Bruce Mills / The Sumter Item