You can meet up with friends, go shopping for high fashion clothing, browse through a fanciful New York City, and build your dream house. You can also participate in your company’s annual conference, practice patient care in an O.R., and attend a lecture by a Harvard professor. All in the Second Life virtual world. And recently added to that list of activities to do in Second Life is: learn how to inspect a home built from structural insulated panels (SIPs), an advanced, energy efficient building system.
But why construct a building inspector training module in Second Life?
Both the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 and in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 set aside billions for energy efficiency and energy savings programs and green industries. A key aspect of these bills is the creation of “green” jobs and training workers to fill these positions, with a strong emphasis on existing home weatherization and retrofits. After all, the building sector in the United States currently use more energy and more electricity than any other sector, and much of this energy is lost to inefficient structures with a leaky thermal envelope and poor (or no) insulation. Substantively reducing energy demand therefore requires a combination of constructing more energy efficient, sustainable new buildings and performing deep retrofits on existing buildings. Doing so will save money at both the household and national levels and will decrease our nation’s carbon emissions from energy.
The federal government has appropriated money to advance the state of energy efficient housing technologies and subsidize retrofits and new construction projects. However, neither retrofits nor new construction can take place without a well-trained workforce of architects, engineers, building professionals, tradesmen, and code officials who know how to design, built, and inspect energy efficient structures. At present, many industry professionals have no experience with or training in how to properly utilize advanced building technologies and materials and this lack of training and experience has proven to be a huge barrier to their adoption. And so in order to transition the building industry into a more efficient and sustainable sector, tools and programs must be rapidly developed to train industry professionals in energy efficiency theories and practical applications.
In order to train workers effectively within a short period of time, the tools must be virtually based to eliminate geographical restrictions, they must be interactive and engaging to enable learning, and they must be able to simulate scenarios and situations in the real world, promote collaboration between students and instructors, and provide the means by which to learn through problem solving and independent exploration. And at the present time, one of the only tools available that fulfills all of these requirements is virtual world technology.
To assess the utility of virtual worlds to building industry training, the Federation of American Scientists Building Technologies Program has created a pilot training module for building inspectors that utilizes the Second Life virtual world and web-based tools. This module educates building inspectors about how to inspect houses constructed with structural insulated panels (SIPs). In this interactive virtual environment, building inspectors can investigate structural and architectural details, interact with animated models, click on details to obtain descriptions, CAD Images, and drawings of the detail, watch a presentation, and take a self-assessment of knowledge gained. Through these features, users learn about the importance of energy efficiency and how to achieve a tight building envelope, constructability and code compliance issues commonly found in SIP construction, and information about SIPs themselves.
While not a fully functional pilot, initial feedback indicates that virtual worlds are indeed valuable training tools, especially when coupled with an independent web-based learning module. By combining classroom learning with field-based learning scenarios, virtual world training improves comprehension of classroom material and shortens the in-field learning curve, thereby speeding up the training process. And due to its web-based nature, virtual world training can allow students to be trained in areas of the country where there are few trainers or certified professionals. As such, FAS recommends further development of virtual training modules as a solution to the need to train workers for a more energy efficient building sector.
To read the Building Technology Program’s report to Lawrence Berkeley National Lab on the training, click here. To visit the building inspector training module in Second Life, teleport to: 142, 18, 27.