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Virtual learning

Marine Institute research chair funded $615,000 to study distance learning and marine simulators

By Moira Baird

A research team at the Marine Institute is studying the impact of marine training simulators on learning and safety in maritime industries.

It’s part of Dr. Heather Carnahan work as the Lockheed Martin industrial research chair in simulation and learning – research in which Lockheed Martin Canada Inc. has invested $615,000 until 2026.

The research team, which includes eight graduate students, is assessing the effectiveness of simulators and virtual reality as learning tools and how to best use this software in distance-education programs for the marine transportation sector.

“We’ll be evaluating the effectiveness of simulators versus real training and hybrid training to better understand how we can most effectively use these virtual reality platforms,” said Dr. Carnahan, who leads MI’s Ocean Safety Research Unit.

The unit is a diverse group of researchers examining the human factors affecting safety and survival in collaboration with the marine industry.

Lockheed Martin Canada

“This Lockheed Martin Canada-funded research chair in simulation and learning came out of a partnership with Marine Institute around our VISTA and SMART products. We were contracted to do a knowledge transfer of those products,” said Kate O’Neill, technical training manager, Lockheed Martin Canada.

“The research chair marks a significant opportunity for Lockheed Martin Canada to both have insight into front-line research into the effectiveness of simulation training in a variety of contexts and support an academic institution that also provides training to the Royal Canadian Navy. We look forward to having a hand in shaping the research direction of the chair for the next six years.”

Diesel engine simulator

One of the research team’s projects is evaluating a diesel engine simulator for training marine engineers.

“What’s unique is that we have both the physical engines and the identical virtual reality models of those engines.” — Dr. Heather Carnahan

“Lockheed Martin, in collaboration with the Marine Institute, developed a 3D virtual reality model of a diesel engine,” said Dr. Carnahan.

She says it’s important to determine how well motor skills are learned in a simulator by testing performance in a real-world environment.

“What’s unique is that we have both the physical engines and the identical virtual reality models of those engines. It allows us to test and evaluate how virtual reality is best integrated into the curriculum.”

Expertise and resources

Dr. Carnahan studies the effective design and use of simulation-based training and the ways in which people become expert at performing motor skills.

She also studies how exposure to cold temperatures affects motor skill performance.

A School of Maritime Studies professor, she is also a former dean of Memorial’s School of Human Kinetics and Recreation.

As research chair, she has access to a suite of MI’s maritime simulators and the new, multi-purpose building under construction at Holyrood.

“A lot of our research is done in the ocean — we want to be on vessels and fast rescue craft and lifeboats. The marine base will be important for giving us that kind of access,” said Dr. Carnahan.

Graduate students lab-MI research chair in simulation and learning
Clockwise from top left are Dr. Jennifer Smith, Emily Walsh, Yoss Leclerc, John Cullen, Ted Marr, Cole Long, Dr. Elizabeth Sanli, Morgane Sheppard, Carla Chaytor and Dr. Heather Carnahan.
Photo: Submitted

“A majority of our graduate students have real-world experience working in maritime industries and all their research will have direct application to marine industries.”

Most of the research team members are graduate students in the School of Maritime Studies: Carla Chaytor, John Cullen, Cody Garlie, Yoss LeClerc and John MacDonald are maritime studies PhD candidates; Morgane Sheppard and Emily Walsh are in the master of science in maritime studies (Safety: The Human Element) program; and Cole Long, is a master’s student in Memorial’s School of Human Kinetics and Recreation.

Distance learning retention

Mr. McDonald, a Coast Guard employee, is focused on fast-rescue craft simulators.

His research compares the situational awareness of novices and experts while navigating fast-rescue craft. Dr. Carnahan says the goal is to use the experts’ awareness as a guide in training new fast-rescue craft operators.

Mr. Garlie, acting director of MI’s Offshore Safety and Survival Centre (OSSC), is examining the effectiveness of distance learning to teach safety and survival skills.

“With COVID, we’ve had to adapt the actual training that takes place at Foxtrap,” said Dr. Carnahan. “So, we’re not only interested in the performance during training, but we’re also interested in the long-term retention of these skills — how well will people remember them.”

Cold-water injuries

Ms. Walsh is studying the effects of cold-water exposure in fish harvesters.

Fish harvesters can experience nerve damage in their hands from chronic exposure to cold water.

She has a postgraduate scholarship from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and a grant from Memorial’s Public Engagement Accelerator Fund.

“In the fall, she interviewed fish harvesters about their experiences with these cold-water injuries and their knowledge and understanding of it,” said Dr. Carnahan. “This will help us frame some of the lab experiments we’ll do in the winter.”


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