AXSChat Podcast

Unlocking the Potential of Simulation in Skills Training

December 15, 2023 Antonio Santos, Debra Ruh, Neil Milliken talk with Lindsey Spalding
AXSChat Podcast
Unlocking the Potential of Simulation in Skills Training
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Be ready to immerse yourself in a riveting journey of workforce development as seen through the lens of simulation, with our extraordinary guest Lindsey Spalding, Director of Workforce Development at the National Centre for Simulation. Lindsay not only unveils the behind-the-scenes of the intriguing work she's leading but also underscores the significance of dismantling silos in STEM education. We probe into her organization's mission of bridging the educational-workforce chasm, by empowering students with hands-on learning experiences that make them proficient problem solvers, using a diverse set of tools & technology.

In the second part of our conversation, we unmask the potential and challenges of using VR for learning with Lindsey. She deciphers how digital twins are being utilized in VR environments and underscores the pressing need for inclusivity and advanced research. We move from human-machine collaboration to Lindsey's fascinating encounters with robotic dogs, taking a detour to discuss how AI and machine learning can be harnessed to benefit neurodiverse individuals. Wrapping up, we spotlight the crucial aspect of fostering future-ready skills amongst individuals with disabilities, prepping them for the current industry demands. It's a dialogue that will leave you pondering on the transformative power of simulation in shaping workforce development. So stay tuned!

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Axschat Lindsey Spalding

NEIL:

Hello and welcome to Axschat. I am delighted we are joined today by Lindsey Spalding, who the director of Workforce Development at the National Centre for Simulation and that's simulation not stimulation. Although, I think that you're going to find that this conversation stimulating. So, welcome Lindsey, can you tell us more about yourself and your background and the work that you're doing because I am sure that what you're doing is going to be fascinating to our audience?

LINDSEY:

All right. Well, thank you and good morning, good afternoon, good evening, I guess depending on where you are. I am excited to join you. Debra and I met, I guess several months ago, on another Webinar panel. And so, we got to know each other a little bit. So, I am coming from a workforce development background, specifically from the mind simulation and training industry. But, it was not a straight in their pathway from school to there. So, I am an untraditional student. I grew up all over the world. In Tupack, in Florida. So, I am here, located logistically in central Florida in a research parkway that is really unique in the fact that we have probably the second smallest space that Navel Air Warfare Training Systems Divisions. We affectionately call NAW, NAW TSD, which is a space that primary creates simulation for training. Like, I said from satellites, to submarines, human in the loop. So, these systems are built and then shipped worldwide, from our little research parkway in Central Florida. Now, the benefit to that is I actually am housed in a partnership building. And in a partnership building in our research parkway means that that I am in a building that is 50/50% shared with university because we are very close to the University of Central Florida. So, I am not a University of Central Florida employee. But I share space, time and brain power with the academic researchers in the University of Central Florida. In addition, to the academic researchers, we also share the building with military and military from the perspective of army, navy, marines and Airforce. So, and air force is currently transitioning some of their employees to space force. So, it's a really empowering environment to teach and learn in. So, the National Centre for Simulation is a nonprofit that was created back in the late '80's, really to help get the technology from the military entities, out into the community for really economic development. Our role has changed a bit because I think industry is now out spending in the research and development and technology and innovation, compared to our Department of Defence friends and so, we are now helping to get some of the tech and innovation coming out of the communities, into the hands of the Department of Defence, in order to help workforce development. So, what I do from a Director's position is, I am very deep in stem education, but we're really trying to break those silos, right. It is not a science of technology and engineering a map and you through an A in there for A, right. And can't have that, any of the stem without art. But we really try and break that down and take what we do from workforce development. So, I have run programmes from early learners. We bring actually fifth grade students and their educators into our mixed reality learning environment and really help them from the lens of, they might be a bio engineering one day and aerospace engineer another day. You know, a doctor. We put the lens on and we put tools in their hands from live physical simulations of launching a rocket, which is super important to also then, what it be like if we changed up scenarios within a virtual reality launch system or how can we use AR, augmented reality, to look at our three-day 3D model, we have created to add an accessory to our rocket. And so, our educators, unfortunately don't get the opportunity to be out in the workforce and to see exactly what that workforce is. And also, the skills right because, education, all systems and workforce systems, have different ideas of skills and where the students leading their programmes are ready to be. And so, that is empowering to the educators to be able to come in and see you know, their students in serious play. I'll say it in that because we are playing. But we have a very serious learning outcome and no child leaves our lab feeling that they didn't know how to learn, which that excites me. I am all about learning the brands within the industry people being able to think. But it's really about empowering their educators to step back and see, who is learning in which way. Okay, what barriers do I have to remove from learning to get my students past a certain point to be able to be a capable cooperative collaborative member of a team, making cooperative decisions. And that is what work force need, right? Someone who can come in as a team member, know their job but also be able to collaborate and cooperate in the decisions for an output, right? So, then we move those students from our elementary programmes, right into Middle School programmes, on the next level up and then, we come in from workforce perspective. We always bring subject matter experts in. The summer, it's medical in space and where students are designing humans on a tip. You know, if we are not ready to send a whole person into space, how can we study DNA you know, on a chip that's been in space and back. And it's out there. So, we are introducing these educators and the students to the technology in the workforce so, that they can get their hands on it and start to learn to solve problems using tools. You know whether it's their pencil. You know, which we emphasise as a tool and then writing code into a mixed reality system. So, there's a lot of that going on. As we get them through that Middle School programme and this is the important thing, I hope everybody is hearing. They are not coming from a one-time engagement you know, spark their excitement. I pull them in for 25-hour curriculums because now they are owning. So, who am I as a learner, right? Do I have barriers? How do I break those barriers down? Who do I get help from? And so, just by spending that 25 hours, learning a little bit about that from a workforce perspective, it's exciting to see how fast they can accelerate, you know to really functioning in a team with creative thought and excited about what they are producing. So, an example of a summer programme of student’s problem solving on drums. So, I started out as and environmental scientist in Florida. Florida was not very environmentally friendly. So, I was existentially in a crisis, you know, what do I do? So, I started teaching science. I had done all the field drips at our Museum of Minerals and I just got excited about it and from that point in time, filled that niche. But as I left that, I am still an environmental scientist at heart. So, I gave all these kids drones and I said, all right, we have a bee problem. We are not getting enough pollination. You have got to create drones that blow bubbles that simulate a pollination mechanism. You have to record time. Pollen, simulate it, release. And so, they made drones, they made sure they worked and then redesigned them to blow bubbles, you know, for a very serious point and these are 6th through 8th grade. So, these are 11 through maybe 13-year-olds. That are able to do this problem solve and tell you why.

DEBRA:

And Lindsey, yes, let me come in here because I love what you're doing. I think it is so creative and imaginative. But we have questions, we want to through some questions at you and one thing I was imposed that you're doing and you've sort of already talked about it and I don't know if the audience caught it. But you are creating all of this for everyone.

LLINDSEY:

Yes.

DEBRA:

Meaning students with disabilities or also people that are neurodiverse, like some of us on this call. And so, just for our audience because not only will they love, love, love what you're doing, Lindsey. But I just think I wanted to make sure they understand, you're talking about all of us here.

LINDSEY:

Yes.

DEBRA:

And you see, you use this record, A, not for Arts a lot, Accessibility. And so, I want to make sure that as we are talking about it, I know Antonio has a question too. I want to make sure, you know, that as we are talking about all this brilliance, you understand, she is including us, she is including our community because often we are not. And I also want to say, Lindsey, I was just talking to an educator, not very long ago, that their job, this company's job was to find jobs for people like my daughter, with intellectual disabilities or cognitive disability since she has down syndrome and I talked to her about what jobs they were finding and she said, dish washers, clerks in the grocery scores and wood workers. I didn't know, really, do we have a serious shortage of wood workers and so, I felt, where in the world is Lindsey in this conversation. So, I just wanted to selfishly make sure that everybody knew what Lindsey is talking about. She is talking about us. And so, I want to send that to you and I know Antonio has a question for you too, but I will let you go next.

LINDSEY:

Yes, and thank you, Debra and you guys stop me any time because I can talk a lot but and that is a challenge in our industry, right, because especially on a younger student level because there are some behavioural challenges and so, there are a lot of well-meaning adults out there who run informal programmes but as soon as a participant cannot function within their set structure, they are no longer welcome into that learning environment. And so, as I witness this, even as I had shared my lab with some colleagues, you know, from different workforce areas, you know, we have had long discussions on this. You know, so for me, it was very important to have a learning environment that could welcome any learner, any age. You know, I started my story with AR kids but I didn't get to the adults yet. So, any age. Any learner, we can adjust. So, our lab is completely fluid dynamic, learning space that can be adjusted to meet the needs or the wants, you know, of any learner that comes in there, you know, whether it is smart boards that lower, turn to table top, so, that you know, that maybe a student in a wheelchair can then be equally accessible and you know, before we got some of those tools, we just you know, moved our furniture around. We offer softies. You know, sound, you know can really be a challenge for a lot of people and can overstimulate fast. Especially in lab and conference environments. Where you got highway ceilings, you've got stuff hanging, you know. So, we make sure that if we don't have a tool accessible to a learner who might need that tool. We make sure we have it next time or we offer them to always bring in a tool. But you're right Debra, I have worked with discoverability on our side of the town and they are working with me to take sure that we are not putting people in a workforce that is not a highly needed workforce. And I was just laughing because I was just reading through our aeronomics and I am working on standards across the board of what careers are in the highest demand right now. And this will have to be our next conversation because this list is too new to me and I am going through it, breaking it down from high school, all the way through to a four year and really breaking down from aerospace, aviation, to construction, to energy of electricity. And so, especially with this digital twin concept that the world is grabbing a hold of. There are a lot of opportunities for 3D scanning, you know we have this sit there be a 3D model and get those details. You know, you can now take an iPhone and iPad and employ lidar scanning or photogrammetry and that is something you know, that I don't think we are talking about some of these jobs that can be highly needed. Those can be right into an immersive world. But on a more practical level how are we evaluating our infrastructure as it ages; right and some with of the robotics that anybody can participate with a lidar scanner, you are now able to get good feedback data, you know from underneath bridges, infrastructure. So, there is a lot of career opportunity with tools that everybody in our community, no matter who you are, what you’re learning challenges, what your bank account is right, all of those matters, but there are tools out there that I tried very hard to get into the community hands and get them to start thinking about ways to use those escalators.

NEIL:

Lindsey, so lots of fascinating stuff you are doing.

DEBRA:

We love it.

NEIL:

We will go back a little bit because you talked about overstimulation and definitely something I am very much aware of. In fact, we did a piece, a cognitive piece with the BBC and the University of the Bioengineering Institute of Barcelona in Catalonia, in Barcelona, a few years back where we were using immersion to teach people, Neurotypical people, what it's like to be neuro divergent and have those overstimulation’s. So, very simple stimulatory environment of the classroom but with amplified noises and lights and just distractions all around you and trying test people at the end of it, to see what they had absorbed and you were able to create a feedback loop, to amplify that and look at things like skin response to be able to ramp up the level of distractions, based upon someone's stress levels and so on. So, I think it's really interesting that you're looking at the distraction because, there is some fantastic benefit from being able to have that sort of hands-on learning, even if it's virtual hands on, virtual things, you know the world of digital twins. But, there is also there are definitely challenges with VR in terms of accessibility in itself. So, I will be interested to look at that but maybe Antonio has also got some comments and questions on digital twins, because I know this is an area he's passionate on too.

LINDSEY:

So, was there a question in there?

NEIL:

Yes, sorry, so what are you doing?

LINDSEY:

As far as is that ?

NEIL:

Not just in terms of over simulation, but how do you take into account the over stimulation you might have in a VR environment and how do you also account in VR, for different impairment groups because obviously they are going to require the information to be passed to them in different ways. Are you using haptics, are you using sort of 3D audio? What are the things that you're using to be able to ?

LINDSEY:

So, a little bit of all of that but to be honest, we are really kind of the earlier reaches of inclusivity within the art because we are on its own. So, not everybody can be in a VR headset right for more than a minute. So, right there is a situation, right? So, with the younger kids, even the older kids, I'll actually pair them up in VR and so, there will be one in VR and I'll have another on an iPad, comm casting. So, there is actually two people in that world, whether they realise that or not. So, then there is always a guide. Right, so that person with the laptop or the iPad that is seeing you know, the person in the VR what they are doing is kind of that guide. And if you get overstimulated you need a break, you take it out and of course, that's for visual you know learners. But you're right, there are different sounds and we are working on, how do we really, especially with the visually impaired learner. You know, make VR accessible and I don't think we are there honestly. So, that's why I think AR, as far as you know, a truly learning tool is probably going to be a more accessible tool for everyone because, there is a lot of ability, right to manipulate in augmented reality with the sound, the visual, the tactile, you know, with the haptic suits and gloves, the cost is still so high on that market, that it's really not, it's more of an experimental, used for us in the lab rather than you know, best practice, at the moment, if that makes sense.

NEIL:

Absolutely.

LINDSEY:

And there is a lot of behavioural challenges in our young American kids, I see in VR that we are going to have to work through because I use an animal care VR for them and we have robotic dogs and so, I've got little fluffy golden retriever robotic dogs that we teach sequencing, you know, basics of programming and then I can put them into VR and it's really interesting to watch the change in behaviour when they don't think that it's real. You know, so we are still looking at how do we help the younger learners to make sure that their behaviours are programmed in a learning environment. Especially now as we have multiple player opportunities in VR, you know, and they are actually interacting together. So, I still think there is a lot of you know, practice we have to build for good practice in VR with kids. But the research is showing, you know, for the learner that has attention challenges you know, that might be a spectrum there is learning gains in VR. But it's still, like I said, not in that good best practice yet. Still that experimental who does it work for. Does that really kind of answer what you're thinking, Neil?

DEBRA:

Great answer. Antonio do you want to come in?

ANTONIO:

Well, so many things happen in this conversation, so, I need to find a way where to start. So, Lindsey, so I sure, you know in your work, you came across lot of different scenarios, lots of different experiences when people have to programme, when people have to you know, work with the drones. You know, this human machine collaboration, is something you know, real new, okay? How do you see it going forward in order to maximize the use of the technology and also to somehow remove some fears that we as humans might have in relation to you know, using the machines or like you were saying before how we can somehow work on our bias, you know, let's say in the case of a robot that looks like a dog, how can we work on the behaviours of the younger people, when they understand the context okay, this is a machine, this is not a real dog. How do you work in that element?

LINDSEY:

Well, you know, we are still working on that element. You know, the more exposure, I think is so important, right. Because not only do we bring in the fluffy dogs but then our researchers, I don't know the Boston dynamic dogs? So, they are the robotic dogs without the heads, so, we have one on campus that comes to visit my lab often.

DEBRA:

Wow.

LINDSEY:

We have renamed the Boston dynamic dog,'Tape Measure,' because tape measure is literally being taught to use lidar scanner. But not only that, we are actually experimenting with the students that are manipulating tape measure from a distance. They don't even know Tape Measure is real. They are in a virtual world with Tape Measure. But we actually have built and this I have to give credit to Joe Keider at the Sensible Lab at UCL, built a replication of the virtual world, you know, small scale that the students are manipulating the robot with and then when they find out that they were truly interacting can and the robot was really doing, everything they were doing in a simulated environment, it just completely changes their mindset on how they are now working with the machine. But I am super excited about machine learning and AI especially for our neurodiverse population because that, exactly Antonio, I think you hit the mark and I think it will allow us to reduce fear. If I am a student that struggles with verbal communication and for me to be on this group to talk to you would be you know, horrific. I am not that person by any means but I work with those people. So, if I had an AI maybe Lindsey on the other side. You know, I'm talking to myself or you know, someone that I really admire, AI on the other side, that I can practice my communication within, in private, maybe. I mean how powerful is that? If I jump into a serious game, you know with a character that may be is driven with AI and here in America, we have got a cultural challenge around mathematics, the way we speak it, the way with practice it, the way we apply it. So, this is something I'm excited about, on the machine learning aspect, because I feel like and this a future idea for me but we could put kids into a serious game situation that has them breaking down challenges based on skills and as soon they get stuck, right. They start to, I can't do that math or I can't figure out that measurement and our AI jumps in and says wait, we can, let's think about it from this perspective. So, now, we are breaking down the barriers of fear and that student is able to guide around that. And then they are excited, they jump back out and they teach their parents. And I witnessed, not on that level but I have spent my past summer with Florida virtual school students. So, these are students who are completely taught at home, virtually and don't have a lab to come into. So, I've been working to get them out of a cyber space, right and into a real lab for workforce development because they can't be what they don't see, right? If you don't know it's there, you can't be it. So, I first had to really help the parents understand the need for them to be able to come into an inclusive learning environment, where everybody was welcome, the importance of them learning about workforce development tools. You know and they are going to be different when they are in the workforce but they have got an idea of where they are going. You know, what is workforce talking about? What are we doing? So, once I could break that barrier with the parents and pull those kids in, those students spent with a week with me and by the middles of that week, they owned my learning space, and brought their families in and put them in VR headsets, got them into my augmented reality sandbox. You know, got them in the medical AR and they were teaching their parents. So, in less than a week I turned learners who had no concept of model simulation and training, a lot of the tools I put them in and they became the instructors, because we reduced all barriers. And they were quite diverse learners. They came from all different learning backgrounds. Some of them learned on a phone in the middle of their bed. Some of them had full classrooms, so, it was a really interesting way to pull everybody in and show the power of workforce development in the hands of younger learners.

DEBRA:

Wow, that's impressive.

ANTONIO:

So, I just have so many questions. So, I am going to try to focus, just to make sure that I don't create. So, considering all those experiences, you know and also considering you know that when companies need people, need talent but not everyone needs to have a university degree to fix the needs of the workforce. How do you see the impact of the work that you are doing at your lab to improve workforce training in skills that you know some people don't have and that is what has put them out of a job. But how can you use these technologies to open opportunities for jobs that are out there that companies need and try to match people who are looking for jobs, who don't have the skills but can use this technology to exclude themselves and to fill in the gap.

LINDSEY:

So, that's a great question because I think that is one of my current largest challenges. So, I am working across the nation with AR and now, I'm exciting to join the global. I actually had some Welsh teachers recently come visit the lab and I think I'm getting some Welsh students in March. But, in America, we, I don't know the past decade really, you know thought everybody needs to go to college. I started as an associate in science, track and environmental engineering technology and I've never left that. So, I am working really hard and I pulled in our CT instructors. So, career technology education instructors are what we call them in the US. So, I make sure annually, I have a large population that we do a training, here are the skills I am learning from workforce. So, I spend hours of my life visiting all the different workforce groups whether it's aerospace, it's medical, it's gaming. So, I spend a lot of hours with the directors that the human resource people hiring, whatever. And then I try to get this back to the CTE educators who are going to do a better job at reaching more students. But that's not stuff because we have a lot of neighbourhoods and I am a community builder and so, I am working really hard now to identify communities who kind of got left behind or overshadowing especially in the Florida space race and actually bringing some of those tools into their community and sharing with them, you know here's where you can go. So, not too far from you is the Florida solar energy centre. You can became, you know, a solar energy auditor and this is how. So, we are going straight out into the community, trying to educate, not just the kids but the families, and then we have to do it multiple languages and so, you know, it is small, at this point. I'm just really starting because it took me a while to get those you know, early learning and middle learning and university. But now, I've four employees who are running those programmes and I've full focus right now on, we don't need university students everywhere. We need technologists who can come at these things right now. And so, that's part of whole lidar scanning. That a very right two day right now skill that's very fast to learn. You don't stand in front of the light scanner. It's almost like it's not that simple but that's a start. And again, with the solar energy. That's a start.

NEIL:

And you've got a lidar in one of those, as well.

LINDSEY:

If you've got a iPhone Pro 11 or up, you've got a lidar scanner.

DEBRA:

Wow. NEIL: Yes, exactly. I didn't realise that.

LINDSEY:

And iPhone, yes, if you're an iPhone user, like myself, you have programme imagery.

DEBRA:

Well, I love the teaching the future skills. I'm sorry Neil to interrupt, but we really appreciate that Lindsey. I am sorry, Neil.

NEIL:

Never been known to happen before.

DEBRA:

I know, I'm sorry. I am sorry.

NEIL:

So, Lindsey, thank you. What you're doing is fascinating and very much aligned with some of the things that we think are important. So, I agree with you that we don't always need graduates, says the guy with two degrees, that are not necessarily related to the job that I do. Right? So, in the UK, you know, my team did a lot of work on apprenticeships, where we take school leavers and give them relevant skills. So, again, as businesses we need people with the skills that can do the jobs that we need to do for our clients and you know, we really want to make sure that people with disabilities and diverse populations can acquire those skills so they can be qualified candidates because part of the systemic problem we face around the globe is that people with disabilities get taught the wrong skills.

LINDSEY:

Right.

NEIL:

Right, so they get taught completely the wrong skills. So, they then actually, it's not the companies don't want to employ people with disabilities, but they need to be able to do the jobs that the companies need them to do and the organisations that have traditionally supported people with disabilities and teaching the wrong skills and to quote Susan Scott Parker, twice in weeks they are teaching them to be piano tuners and basket weavers and those are not what today's industry needs. So, you know, today's industry needs people that can build twins, people that learn prompting that can be able to have a conversation with AI, that aren't afraid of robot dogs with no heads. I am afraid I fail on that last on because I find the Boston dynamic robots quite creepy, especially when they are opening doors and so on.

DEBRA:

Yes, they scare me too. I saw too many movies.

NEIL:

Yes, we need those future skills. So, thank you for teaching the future skills and I also need to thank our sponsors Amazon and My Cleartext for keeping us On Air and keeping us captioned. And I really look forward to continuing the conversation on social media. Thank you.

LINDSEY:

Thank you for having me.

Empowering Workforce Development Through Simulation
Exploring VR, Robotics, and AI Learning
Skills for People With Disabilities