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MindFlight VR Career Incursion - Leaping Beyond Reality

Source: Ripe Magazine, FarmWeekly

FIFTEEN-year-old Keeley Stevens recently performed open heart surgery for the first time. It was a bit icky as she cut through her patient’s rib cage, peeling back the skin and clamping it in place so she could see inside the chest cavity. She got to work slowing down the heart rate, until the heart stopped. She had had a quick lesson on the bio­mechanics going into the surgery, so she was feeling confident about the anatomy. “It’s very interesting work,’’ said Ms Stevens, who has a keen interest in sci­ence and eventually wants to do a job that helps people. “But it’s a very long process. “Fortunately, I think I am quite OK with blood.’’

So she had fun, though who knows whether her patient survived? Of course, the Year 10 student wasn’t actually wielding a surgical scalpel or working on a real life human. Instead, she was part of a group of 23 year 10-12 students from Our Lady of Mercy College (OLMC), Australind, who were taking part in a virtual reality (VR) workshop – aimed at opening their eyes to the possibilities of careers in fields and places they have not yet dreamed of.

“It was a little concerning, as I wasn’t expecting it to be so realistic,’’ Ms Stevens said of her surgery experience. “It is quite cartoonish, but the heart really beats.’’

Offered by Perth and Melbourne-based education technology company Mindflight7, the incursion uses VR technology to offer career education, entrepreneurship and digital economy or subject specific education programs to students and has just finished its second two week tour of 12 high schools in regional WA. It is an exciting, interactive and engaging concept, and a still too-rare example of how modern technology is bringing new experiences to regional communities which are as good as – or even better – than those available to kids in the city.

Mindflight7 creative director Chris Gillard said its so-called VR ‘flights’ aimed to open teenagers’ eyes to a broader range of potential interests and career possibilities. During the 60 or 90-minute experien­ces, the flight controllers will also suggest to students that they should base those career choices on their interests and pas­sions.

And they encourage the idea that the students will need to develop a life-long growth mindset to have a successful pro­fessional journey – which means not being afraid to try new things. “We go into a school and a classroom of 30 students puts on a VR headset each and we take them through a one hour or a 90-minute session,’’ Mr Gillard said. “It is immersive and interactive, and it comes down to engagement. “We have something that is so gripping, the kids don’t even know they are learn­ing.’’

During the Mindflight7 sessions par­ticipants each wear a VR headset – which offers visuals and sound and technically operates as simply as a smart phone. Participants navigate through the world with two handsets, like gaming joysticks. During the Mindflight7 Career Taster Program, the headsets project the user into a virtual world from a choice of about 40 experiences. And all the equipment packs up into a large suitcase – which makes it easily transportable to just about anywhere.

For participants, the experience is like watching great gaming console graphics. But instead of watching them on a screen, they instantly jump the barrier and are in the screen, within the environ­ment and the graphics. The ‘mindflights’ are deliberately prac­tical and visual – which means they offer a hugely engaging way for everyone to learn, regardless of their preferred learn­ing styles, strengths and weaknesses. It works well for neurodivergent children and children who struggle to concentrate in class – or who tend to be disruptive – are instantly engaged. As well as being practical and immer­sive, the Mindflight education program is conceptual.

The lesson component, delivered around the flight, aims to help teenagers understand the links between what they are studying at school and what they might end up doing for work. This generation will likely end up having at least seven different careers or roles in their lifetimes – hence Mindflight7 – so it’s important they start by following their strengths, passions and interests. And it aims to take some of the pres­sure out of the dreaded question “what are you going to do when you finish school?’’ that every adult they come across asks, by giving them some options to talk about.

Particularly in regional and agricultural areas, it also means opening students’ eyes to career possibilities they – their parents, teachers and career advisors – may never have considered. It is a chance to look beyond the region’s traditional jobs or even just the traditional ways of doing those jobs to new and emerging possibilities.

So that’s the serious side, but from the kids’ point of view, it’s just a whole lot of fun.

“Mr Briers, this is the coolest thing that has ever happened to me,’’ Year 11 student Abbey East excitedly told teacher Dale Briers, Head of Learning Area – Career Services and Vocational Education and Training, within the first few minutes.

The students had a ball – painting in hypercolour, creating music, teleporting through nature and time into space, or the deep ocean or wan­dering through the Jurassic. They were drawing on whales, in whales and inside themselves – with the magic of Harry Potter adventure. But plenty of the experiences were also practical.

Quite a lot of the lads had a go at driv­ing a forklift – it was tricky – one student happily dissected a shark, most tried the open heart surgery and Year 10 student Banjo Nugent-Brown had a great time trying everything. Fifteen-year-old Ben Pennefather, who is taking electives in sports and design this year, headed to the VR options for game development, the nature trek, drove the forklift and tried the heart surgery – say­ing he thought it would be cool to see what that was like. “It was pretty good,’’ the Year 10 stu­dent said of the surgery flight – which pushed him outside his comfort zone. Was he a natural surgeon? “I probably need a bit more practice,’’ he admitted.

“I thought the nature trek was really cool, with all the different environments.

“I did the deep sea one and the jurassic one, they looked the most interesting to me.

“I thought this would be a cool oppor­tunity to see what virtual reality could do and all the career options as well. I would definitely do it again.’’

As well as the open heart surgery, Ms Stevens had a go at the genetics flight on Wednesday – it showed her the different chromosomes and she could see how they related to each other – and let her indulge her passion for science. “I like health subjects in general,’’ Ms Stevens said. “I find medical things very interesting and science is very interesting this year, now we are extending from what we have done before. “I don’t know exactly what I want to do yet, but I want to do something that helps people and where I can learn a lot all the time, learning new things and always chal­lenging myself.’’

The Mindflight7 team visited the College for a second time, when 90 students – the entire Year 9 cohort – had their chance to join in the experience as part of the school’s two-year careers education program. The career roadshows are supported by South Regional TAFE and the Department of Training and Workplace Development’s Career Taster Program.

Mr Briers said each student who had participated in the Mindflight7 workshop at the College had a significant interest in trying VR technology. “I have worked with a lot of them as a career advisor for the College and some of them are interested in specific pathways, like healthcare and medicine,” Mr Briers said. “For us, this is part of that journey to graduation. “It is about encouraging the students to explore things they are interested in and find things they may not have tried before. “We want our students to be open to new ideas.’’

Mr Briers was enthusiastic about what Mindflight7 could offer students, saying it was the first time the College had experi­enced VR technology and that the experi­ence would be part of its Year 9 Career Taster Program, which began last year. “The idea behind that is in Year 9, stu­dents start to engage in future possibilities, so this adds more meaning and value to the education process they are going through,’’ Mr Briers said.

“This is the second year I have run the Year 9 Taster Program and I can see the difference it has made in our Year 10s, in terms of their motivation.’’

The school’s career program also involves exploring trade pathways, visits to the Construction Future Centre and annual SkillsWest Expo in Perth and to the South Regional TAFE, it offers a range of incursions and links into Year 10 work experience and workplace learning programs for Years 10-12.

“Our students are actively being engaged in learning about where they want to be for the future,’’ Mr Briers said. “Our partnership is with industry, the community and the school working together to give the students real-world learning experiences.

“That is key – our mission is to show them the relevance of their learning in relation to what they will do next, and having good options and making good decisions.’’

Please click below to read the full article from Ripe.

MindFlight - Ripe Magazine
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Thank you to the MindFlight Team and Belinda Hickman, Editor at Australian Community Media.

Image credits: Ripe Magazine and Our Lady of Mercy College


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