By Éric Thibault, RÉCIT-FP National Service Pedagogical Advisor
This text is a summary of an interview conducted at the Centre de formation professionnelle des Riverains with Johanne Prud'homme, Director, and Jonathan Perron-Miville, Pedagogical Advisor, on April 28, 2022.
It's no secret that the world of vocational education is constantly innovating. The job market is changing and so is the clientele. It is therefore necessary to adapt the ways in which knowledge, skills and competencies are acquired.
The experience lived by the learner is at the heart of knowledge retention and increases or decreases the learner's motivation. Thus, when available, an immersive experience is undoubtedly an added value when teaching certain skills.
Immersive educational activities are no longer the future, they are now.
Today, we will focus on a completely crazy innovation that went a little unnoticed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, namely the immersive room at the Centre de formation professionnelle (CFP) des Riverains in Repentigny.
First of all, the immersive room is composed of benches of different heights, a lectern and canvases covering all the walls. In order to project a 360 degree image, 14 HD projectors and a set of 5 high end speakers are installed. The projection is ensured by the software Canevadeveloped by the company Immersive. This software makes sure that the projection does not go out of its frame and that the image remains uniform. The rendering is simply perfect, no borders are visible and even in the corners of the room, the projection is impressive. When several different videos are played simultaneously, no borders are visible. The software makes the experience very smooth and provides a compelling experience for learners.
In addition, in the room, films, videos, animations, PowerPoint documents, and photos can be projected. The latter are mainly used, as one of the objectives of the immersive room is to develop collaboration and communication, so a static environment is required.
Thus, this room allows teachers to apply active pedagogy strategies (Desjardins, Sénécal). Strategies related to active pedagogy are those that place learners in an active role, such as role-playing, problem solving and debates. The active pedagogy supports the development of creativity, collaboration and concrete problem solving. It is possible to believe that collaboration reduces students' anxiety about learning. It also helps develop a positive attitude towards teachers, leading them to become facilitators in this context.
On the technical side, it is not a panoramic photo captured by an ordinary camera that can be used, but rather a set of photos pasted and assembled. The exercise requires to take a photo every 5 degrees in order to have a perfect rendering. As for the resolution, we are not kidding. The monster projects horizontally 15 360 pixels on 770 pixels in height, it is imposing. Thus, a 360 degree 4K camera is not enough to exploit this environment.
The birth of a giant
Three years ago, Johanne Prud'homme, director of the CFP, felt that even though the center she directs is well known and recognized in the region, the time was right for a new challenge and the "momentum" was there to innovate. The students needed new challenges and the teachers needed to be able to innovate.
Thus, she entrusted Jonathan Perron-Miville, pedagogical advisor, with a very important mandate: that of exploring new trends in techno-pedagogy and to come back to her with an innovative option, very innovative.
However, it wasn't just a matter of looking good. The solution had to have an impact on knowledge retention and student attraction. This environment had to serve the learners, but also the teachers. In addition, it had to bring the students as close as possible to the task at hand, to the workplace.
Of course, the internship environment is where you can really apply what you have learned. However, can we simulate this type of environment? While visiting workplaces is beneficial for everyone, it also has its drawbacks: organization, time, costs and insurance, among others.
Of course, the idea of virtual reality headsets came naturally to the educational consultant. Although interesting, the tool quickly finds its limits when the desired experience must be lived in a group. Moreover, the programs taught at the CFP were one of the most important elements taken into account when choosing the technology. They are mainly programs related to customer service. Thus, it is mainly the learners' soft skills and non-verbal skills that we want to work on with this new environment. This is why virtual and augmented reality headsets were not selected, as the experience is too individual.
Thus, Jonathan Perron-Miville, educational consultant, developed the concept of the immersive room. The advantages are numerous: the student is completely immersed in the task and the teacher remains at the heart of the activity, directing it according to his or her pedagogical intention and being able to adapt his or her interventions to the clientele. In addition, according to Ms. Prud'homme, the fact that the center's clientele is predominantly male meant that the environment chosen had to be participatory, flexible and different from traditional teaching.
Such an innovative idea has a high price tag. Thus, with the support of the School Service Centre, the management had to plan priorities and ensure sound management to finance this project.
An asset of the CFP in the implementation of this project is the computer support training that is taught there. Thus, the CFP was already equipped with powerful computer facilities and a server room that could meet the computer needs of the immersive room.
Although this room is technologically very innovative, its use remains very simple for the teacher or psychoeducator. The activities are accessible on a tablet and the user only has to click on the chosen activity and it appears instantly on the wall.
Designing activities requires some preparation. The teacher has to find the place where the pictures will be taken, obtain the necessary authorizations, and then the audiovisual technician comes and takes the pictures to be able to make the editing and prepare the activity.
During the lunch hour, the room is open for students and staff to relax. Soft music is played and soothing images are projected to create a relaxing environment. The lunch activity is led by the psychoeducator, which allows her to have close contact with the more anxious clients.
The immersive room has a cost, of course, but it allows to simulate places that are difficult to access, to experience immersive pedagogical activities based on active pedagogy that allows the teacher to be a facilitator and to work on knowledge as well as on interpersonal skills. Thus, in a world of constant change, it is a powerful tool for reaching new learners who are already accustomed to technology. Will this innovation make its way to other training centers in the province?
 DESJARDINS, J.& SÉNÉCAL, I. (2016) Active pedagogy, https://www.profweb.ca/publications/dossiers/la-pedagogie-activeaccessed on May 18, 202