Educational innovation: the docu-reality to create an augmented laboratory 

It was November 2020 when some of the twenty-five ENGIM training centers located in Italy were in the red zone, others in the yellow zone, due to Covid restrictions. In some centers, the lessons were online, in others the students could attend the workshops. 

How to join forces to guarantee all ENGIM students the same training opportunities? How to share skills from Turin to Rome via Vicenza? 

The problem has been solved thanks to digital technology which in professional training is used as a vector through which to improve the learning experience. Using a streaming platform and some webcams, what we called an augmented laboratory was created: a real environment that is shared and experienced “virtually” even by students physically very far from it. 

 

 

For the augmented laboratory we decided to use the docu-reality model (documentary + reality), the television format that airs informative and educational contents through real-life filmed scenes, like the traditional documentary. 

What are the elements of the docu-reality needed to create an augmented laboratory? 

First, it’s necessary to equip the laboratory, in which the docu-reality is to be created, with a good connection and with fixed and mobile webcams that will enabling to resume the teacher’s activity from the most appropriate angle. Only by creating an immersive effect, created thanks to the alternation of different shots, the remote lesson will be perceived as similar to reality even by those who watch it through a screen. Switching from one shot to another requires a minimum of direction and a director: using a streaming platform that allows the simultaneous viewing of multiple videos and the choice between different “webcams”, the “director” will be able to manage the video stream remotely for the student spectator. 

In order to reduce the distance between the absent student and the laboratory, the mediation of a moderator is essential. His role is to solicit the attention of the students and to assist the execution of the task in the laboratory through simple questions. A teacher of the same subject is the most qualified one to ask questions useful to make the lesson participated and to facilitate the understanding of the students; the goal is to get them to think “he asked the same question I would have asked”. Through a monitor, the teacher who is carrying out the laboratory activity can also observe what is seen from a distance and can better grasp who the students and their interlocutors are. 

What do the students present in the laboratory where the docu-reality is filmed do? Their support is essential to carry out collateral activities or essential preparations for the teacher’s work. One or more students may also be involved as mobile device cameramen. 

Through the docu-reality we are able to break the limits of the classroom. The simultaneous connection from several points of Italy creates an effect of leaving one’s own borders and allows students a greater involvement that opens up to comparison with other peers attending other vocational training centers. 

Augmented learning contexts

We must not think about digital only as a way to improve distance learning, but also as a way to create training contexts crucial to continue to generate experience face-to-face. Digital can help with additional elements, not substitutes: it can be useful for carrying out a laboratory activity even away from the laboratories, as just described; virtual reality, for example, can be used to show students a preview of the working environment that will welcome them in internships or apprenticeships. 

Professional training cannot be separated from learning in the workplace face-to-face, but it is possible to use digital tools so that the practical experience can be adequately prepared, improved and “augmented” with additional information and insights. Workplaces connected to Industry 4.0 are becoming places of learning in which context information is also “increased” thanks to digital tools. The learning platforms will have to provide a dynamic response to the training needs, for example by allowing the sharing of training modules or among teachers who can compose new and different lessons. It is always necessary to take into account the digital infrastructure available to teachers, students and their connectivity.