Virtual learning in a much different sense

Braden Becknell, Coastal Bend College's director of workforce development and continuing education, tries out a set of virtual reality goggles and controls that the college uses for career training and career exploration. Unseen to those around her, Becknell is being taken through a simulation where she is trying out the tasks related to a specific career. 

The changing career landscape and the need for Bee County to have a skilled workforce ready to meet the demands of various jobs has Coastal Bend College focusing on the future.

The college is one of a handful of schools around the country to employ virtual reality technology to help people explore and train for myriad careers. Braden Becknell, the college’s director of workforce development and continuing education, said junior high and high school students are introduced to lines of work including hospitality, warehouse, public safety, automotive and skilled trades. The virtual reality goggles also can be customized to train adults to work in numerous jobs. 

“We’re bringing innovation and new opportunities to students in the community,” Becknell said. “There’s a lot you can do with virtual reality goggles that you can’t do in person.”

For instance, with the public safety module, users are shown how to properly use a fire extinguisher and then tasked with putting out a small fire. The automotive experience takes place in a repair shop, where the user is given step-by-step instructions on how to perform an oil and filter change on a car before being graded on performing the task on their own.

“Some students don’t necessarily know what they want to do after high school,” Becknell said. “They may not think they want to go to college, maybe because they can’t afford it or don’t know what they want to do. This gives them an opportunity to help them figure it out.”

Nine sets of virtual reality goggles and controllers were purchased with money from CBC’s general fund and have been in use since August.  Becknell said the college pays $5,000 per set for a yearly contract, which provides repair and replacement.

She said their portability allows the virtual reality sets to be taken to various schools where they can spend the day allowing students to spend an hour, each trying out three or four different careers. She said they have mainly been in use within the college’s service area, but they also have gone as far as Miller High School in Corpus Christi.

“Some of the students have different reactions,” Becknell said. “Some like that it’s virtual but very hands on. The students chosen to participate are the ones identified as more of the hands-on learners.”

She recalls one student at Miller High School who became interested in carpentry as a career. His teacher said that the youngster needed to learn fractions, which the boy pledged to do.

“It’s something special to know that (CBC is) leading the way in different educational programs, not just for the college but for the community,” Becknell said. “We can help people to improve in their jobs, get a new job and have a better life overall. This is one tool to be able to help people to do that.”

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