ASSESSMENT OF RADIATION AWARENESS TRAINING IN IMMERSIVE VIRTUAL ENVIRONMENTS

Open Access
Author:
Whisker, III, Vaughn Eugene
Graduate Program:
Nuclear Engineering
Degree:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Dissertation
Date of Defense:
March 10, 2008
Committee Members:
  • John Messner, Committee Member
  • Anthony Baratta, Committee Chair
  • C Frederick Sears, Committee Chair
  • Lawrence E Hochreiter, Committee Member
  • Robert M Edwards, Committee Member
Keywords:
  • Virtual Reality
  • CAVE
  • Radiation Awareness
  • ALARA
  • Training
Abstract:
The prospect of new nuclear power plant orders in the near future and the graying of the current workforce create a need to train new personnel faster and better. Immersive virtual reality (VR) may offer a solution to the training challenge. VR technology presented in a CAVE Automatic Virtual Environment (CAVE) provides a high-fidelity, one-to-one scale environment where areas of the power plant can be recreated and virtual radiation environments can be simulated, making it possible to safely expose workers to virtual radiation in the context of the actual work environment. The use of virtual reality for training is supported by many educational theories; constructivism and discovery learning, in particular. Educational theory describes the importance of matching the training to the task. Plant access training and radiation worker training, common forms of training in the nuclear industry, rely on computer-based training methods in most cases, which effectively transfer declarative knowledge, but are poor at transferring skills. If an activity were to be added, the training would provide personnel with the opportunity to develop skills and apply their knowledge so they could be more effective when working in the radiation environment. An experiment was developed to test immersive virtual reality’s suitability for training radiation awareness. Using a mixed methodology of quantitative and qualitative measures, the subjects’ performances before and after training were assessed. First, subjects completed a pre-test to measure their knowledge prior to completing any training. Next they completed unsupervised computer-based training, which consisted of a PowerPoint presentation and a PDF document. After completing a brief orientation activity in the virtual environment, one group of participants received supplemental radiation awareness training in a simulated radiation environment presented in the CAVE, while a second group, the control group, moved directly to the assessment phase of the experiment. The CAVE supplied an activity-based training environment where learners were able to use a virtual survey meter to explore the properties of radiation sources and the effects of time and distance on radiation exposure. Once the training stage had ended, the subjects completed an assessment activity where they were asked to complete four tasks in a simulated radiation environment in the CAVE, which was designed to provide a more authentic assessment than simply testing understanding using a quiz. After the practicum, the subjects completed a post-test. Survey information was also collected to assist the researcher with interpretation of the collected data. Response to the training was measured by completion time, radiation exposure received, successful completion of the four tasks in the practicum, and scores on the post-test. These results were combined to create a radiation awareness score. In addition, observational data was collected as the subjects completed the tasks. The radiation awareness scores of the control group and the group that received supplemental training in the virtual environment were compared. T-tests showed that the effect of the supplemental training was not significant; however, calculation of the effect size showed a small-to-medium effect of the training. The CAVE group received significantly less radiation exposure during the assessment activity, and they completed the activities on an average of one minute faster. These results indicate that the training was effective, primarily for instilling radiation sensitivity. Observational data collected during the assessment supports this conclusion. The training environment provided by the immersive virtual reality recreated a radiation environment where learners could apply knowledge they had been taught by computer-based training. Activity-based training has been shown to be a more effective way to transfer skills because of the similarity between the training environment and the application environment. Virtual reality enables the training environment to look and feel like the application environment. Because of this, radiation awareness training in an immersive virtual environment should be considered by the nuclear industry, which is supported by the results of this experiment.