Occupational Medicine Research Project: Initial Development

After much initial thought and targeted discussions on the Occupational Medicine Research Project, progress has now been made on its actual development. As indicated in the first post on the subject, the build will consist of immersive spaces representative of areas associated with the cement manufacturing process, as well as a clinical facility for assessing workers’ health status. Here distance-based students, accompanied at times by facilitators, will be given the opportunity to participate in collaborative learning experiences related to occupational health in this particular workplace.

In terms of the manufacturing process the focus here is to present the areas in a way that will allow participants to experience the occupational data in the context of the actual work environment. Instead of just viewing the data as a subset of clinical information, students will also have the opportunity to observe, in an immersive sense, the working environment from where it originated. This “hazard surveillance”, in conjunction with its complementary “health surveillance”, are core activities “in the practice of occupational health” (Koh and Aw, 2003, p. 705) and while the simulations cannot represent all the occupational aspects, heat or vibration for example, the essence of those aspects might still be experienced through viewing the data in association with the environment.

Parallel to this experiential learning thread runs another that has the intent of investigating different means whereby social presence and co-presence (Bulu, 2011) might be provided for a student body that is geographically dispersed; that sense of collegiate experience that can negate the isolation often experienced by distance learners (Hassel et al., 2012). Developing the socialisation necessary to the online learning process is not just about a ‘getting to know you’ exercise, it is more about identity creation, investigating the learning environment and establishing the mutual trust and respect required to work collaboratively online (Edirisingha et al., 2009). This thread will be given greater focus as the build progresses past the process area developments.

In these early stages however, much of the build time has been directed towards the development of the process area systems; how they will be presented, how students will be transported to them and how the occupational data will be delivered to students once they are in a process area. In terms of the presentation of areas, the first built, the quarry, currently exists as a permanent build at ground level. Rather than terraforming (sim terrain modelling) the terrain though, the quarry has been built using a number of sculpties (sculpted primitives) modelled and textured to resemble different terrain aspects. This serves a dual function; firstly the technical limitation of being able to use only four textures dynamically placed by height-fields across the complete sim is bypassed and secondly, should student engagement with the build prove its requirement, multiple instances of the quarry, or any other process area constructed in this method, could be generated. This construction method provides a certain flexibility further into the build process, should multiple builds be found necessary, whereas a fixed terrain based build would make this option impossible.

For navigation to the process areas and the presentation of the occupational data a HUD (heads-up display) has been developed. As I have previously discussed in relation to HUDs it is my view that in virtual environment simulations, given purposeful design, they will support the immersive experience as opposed to detracting from it. There is a small concern, where data presentation from within the HUD requires for example, opening PDF documents in an external browser, that this experience will be interrupted. My trialling of the actual process however, inclines me towards it not being a problem in terms of breaking immersion, as the focus is on the data and its relationship to the virtually experienced environment, not the data in isolation.

The following video presents the HUD and its types of interactions in terms of navigating it and the simulated environments and accessing the disclosed data relating to those environments. For best viewing select High Definition and expand to full screen. Note that while, as already mentioned, focus is on the development of the process area systems, consideration is also being given in that context to establishing self-presence and a sense of belonging to the process environments; important aspects for the creation of identity.

While the majority of the occupational data is presented to the students directly through the HUD, it is also important that investigative opportunities supporting student-driven learning are provided, an example being clicking on the digger in the quarry to access further information. It is in these areas where students are engaged in self-directed, collaborative associations, that the socialisation of the sort necessary to the online learning process will develop (Edirisingha et al., 2009).  This necessitates the teaching staff being prepared at times to relinquish control and allowing the possibility of learner-centric experiences to flourish (de Freitas and Nuemann, 2009).


Bulu, S. (2012) Place presence, social presence, co-presence, and satisfaction in virtual worlds. Computers & Education [online], 58, pp. 154–161. [Accessed 23 September 2014].

de Freitas, S. & Nuemann, T. (2009) The use of ‘exploratory learning’ for supporting immersive learning in virtual environments. Computers and Education [online]. 52 (2), pp. 343-352. [Accessed 24 September 2014].

Edirisingha, P., Nie, M., Pluciennik, M. and Young, R. (2009) Socialisation for learning at a distance in a 3-D multi-user virtual environment. British Journal of Educational Technology [online]. 40 (3), pp. 458-479. [Accessed 23 September 2014].

Hassell, M., Goyal, S., Limayem, M. and Boughzala, I. (2011) Effects of presence, copresence, and flow on learning outcomes in 3D learning spaces. Administrative Issues Journal: Education, Practice & Research [online]. 2 (1), pp. 62-73. [Accessed 23 September 2014].

Koh, D. and Aw, T. (2003) Surveillance in occupational health. Occupational & Environmental Medicine [online]. 60 (9), pp. 705-710. [Accessed 23 September 2014].

Technical Notes

The method I used for creating the quarry terrain sculpts for OpenSimulator involved using a particular tool native to Second Life; Sculpt Studio. This tool allows an area of terrain to be mapped and a resulting sculpt texture created. In my experience terraforming in Second Life is a more refined process than in OpenSimulator so it was also my desired platform for creating the terrain shapes. The process is shown in the following images (click to view as slideshow).

I also performed some interesting experiments around the use of html formatted media on a prim, in pursuit of the possibility of recreating the Excel calculators in the HUD itself rather than needing to come, in a sense, off-world to perform the calculations. This webpage, Becky Pippen/Shared Media LSL Recipes, is where the initial ideas came from. The experiments, without having access to external server functions, were hampered by the 1024 byte data URIs limitation, but nonetheless were food for thought.



2 thoughts on “Occupational Medicine Research Project: Initial Development

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