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‘Big ideas’ introduced to students

Staff photo by Clay Schuldt Justin Hendrickson demonstrates augmented reality technology to students at Cathedral High School Wednesday.

NEW ULM — The Big Ideas mobile classroom started its maiden voyage through Minnesota on Wednesday.

Its first stop was Cathedral High School. The goal of the mobile classroom is to introduce the trade fields to students. The mobile trailer is filled with augmented reality devices that can give hands-on experiences to students.

Inside the trailer, students were given augmented reality headsets to simulate different trade jobs including welding, industrial painting and scoop shovel operating.

Headsets give the students a 360-degree computer simulation of the activity. Special controls allow them to manipulate items in the computer world. It is the closest thing to actually doing the work.

Big Ideas co-founder Rebecca Fliszar said the technology allows them to simulate several environments. Students can see and feel what it is like to weld or paint in a variety of environments.

The other benefit of the simulation is, there are no wasted materials. In the simulated world welding materials and paint are infinite and there is no risk of inhaling toxic fumes.

Fliszar said the technology was designed by professionals in the field. The scoop shovel program was designed by Caterpillar, meaning it is an accurate and detailed experience.

The Big Ideas mobile classroom includes activities outside the trailer. Some Oculus virtual reality headsets were brought into the shop room at Cathedral. Students could simulate other trade professions, like a mechanic. One program simulated simple car repairs like an oil change. There was another program for fire safety. Students could simulate extinguishing fires.

Justin Hendrickson served as the instructor. He said the virtual simulator gave real hands-on experience and allowed the student to use all the tools a person in the trade would need.

Big Ideas has used its mobile trailer for years, but this is the first year hosting traveling engagements. The pandemic made it difficult for Big Ideas to introduce trade programs to students, but with the augmented reality students can be exposed to the professions safely.

Virtual reality technology is used, but the classes are in-person. Big Ideas is continuing to acquire more augmented reality technology to expand its offering.

Big Ideas co-founder Mary Ann Christensen said it is easy for students to understand the augmented reality technology and it helps introduce them to various trades and opportunities. Christensen said learning the trades is fast entrepreneurship, but it also gives students an advantage in being hired.

The mobile classroom has 40 engagements scheduled across Minnesota. Cathedral was only the beginning. Its next visit will be to Tri-City United in Montgomery.

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