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At Northern College, the future is here with virtual reality training now part of a student's learning experience

Northern College opened is virtual training facility and all agree that it will enhance the learning experience for its students in five major program areas and more taught at the Timmins campus. “Northern College has embraced the latest advanced

Northern College opened is virtual training facility and all agree that it will enhance the learning experience for its students in five major program areas and more taught at the Timmins campus.

“Northern College has embraced the latest advanced virtual reality technology,” said Christine Heavens, Executive Director, Community, Business Development and Employment Services at Northern College. “The future is here.”

Northern College’s virtual training project started in the spring of 2016, when the college was provided with $219,000 by the Apprenticeship Enhancement Fund that is funded by the Ministry of Advanced Education.

The program enhances Northern College’s experience in technology training in our five major program areas: Construction, maintenance and electricity; industrial, mechanic and millwright; heavy duty equipment technician; general carpentry and; automotive technician.

With the funding, Northern College purchased the equipment and software need to develop its Virtual Reality Training Centre.

“The virtual reality training will help introduce students to the skills of their trades in a safe environment by acquiring the basic skills they need to know before moving to the use of the actual equipment,” Heavens said.

Mayor Steve Black. who is an engineer by training and who worked with Kidd Creek Mines before running for office, was on hand to congratulate Northern College on the acquisition of virtual training capability and to later try it out.

“I congratulate Northern College for introducing this new spectacular training facility, that will prepare students for today and our future work force,” declared Mayor Black.

“I look back to when I was studying my engineering and our professor asked how many people had been in a mine,” recalled Mayor Black who graduated with a degree in engineering from Queen’s University.” Only two people put up their hands - “I didn’t step into a mine until my third year.”

“With virtual training, many more students will be able to experience being in a mine and testing out mining equipment lot sooner, ” said Black.

Fred Gibbons, president of Northern College, hailed the acquisition of virtual training technology as a tremendous learning tool.

“For us it represents an opportunity to improve our teaching and training,” said Gibbons. “This is a powerful technology and we are only limited by our imagination in how we can use and apply it for learning at Northern College.”

“We are on the cusp of something really exciting as an institution of higher learning,” he added. “The potential for incorporating virtual technology many programs taught at Northern is unlimited.”

Dr. Audrey Penner, Vice President of Academic and Student Success pointed out several applications.

“We talked about how this can apply to mining sector training,” said Dr. Penner. “But we can also apply it in situations where it is dangerous for a student to learn – such as in our fire fighting program.”

“We can now use virtual training to teach our future fire fighters and keep them save until the gain more knowledge; think about nursing where a student nurse can learn with no harm to the patient until she has acquired the skills through virtual learning to competently attend to care of the patient,” Penner explained.

A key sponsor of Northern College in developing virtual training capability in the mining context is Primero Gold Mines.

“We at Primero, are proud to participate in the introduction of virtual training in the mining field, by providing our open pit and underground environment, as the source for the development of the virtual training module,” said Dan Gagnon, Primero’s mine manager.

“Mining environments are dark, wet, and then can be dangerous if not properly instructed on how to work underground,” explained Gagnon. “Virtual Training will help prepare a student before entering a mine and minimize injury.”

The acquisition of hi-tech multi-lensed, 3-D video cameras enables Northern College to develop virtual reality training programs tailored for its courses.

A team of technicians headed by William Desrochers created the mining module during a visit to Primero Gold Mine’s Black Fox mine east of Matheson. In the module a student is introduced to Primero’s open pit mine and then its underground mine.

A student experiences the virtual reality training at one a of dozen, or so stations that contain swivel chairs, a monitor and virtual reality glasses, through which the student can observe the module.

Swiveling around in the chair, or rotating gives a 360-degree view of the workplace.

For interactive virtual reality hand sets and toggles can be used to manipulate equipment to perform a function.


Frank Giorno

About the Author: Frank Giorno

Frank Giorno worked as a city hall reporter for the Brandon Sun; freelanced for the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star. He is the past editor of and the newsletter of the Association of Italian Canadian Writers.
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