March 13, 2024

UCalgary civil engineering students get virtual hands-on experience

Games and virtual reality headsets offer a chance to practise project management and learn about its risks
Estacio Pereira wearing suit with hands in pocket
Estacio Pereira Fritz Tolentino

Schulich School of Engineering students at the University of Calgary are getting a taste of real-world engineering problems through gamification and virtual reality.

Schulich professor Dr. Estacio Pereira, PhD, has created a game in which students taking Project Management II (ENCI 565) and Introduction to Project Management (ENGG 684) are immersed in the intricate world of project management and can practise planning a project. 

Through the game, StratPM, students can simulate activities such as project scheduling, selecting subcontractors and devising risk-management strategies to maximize project profit. To help users understand the scope of the project, they can interact with the project building information modelling (BIM) model, which is a digital representation of the physical and functional characteristics of a building through virtual reality (VR). 

Pereira says the game will be a refreshing change for students. 

“It's not just more 2D drawings. They can come to this virtual reality at the Schulich School of Engineering and understand the project scope better,” says Pereira, who is with the Department of Civil Engineering

“They work with BIM models, so now, instead of using just calculators and theoretical concepts to plan the project, they can use software to estimate the quantity of work and compare the performance of their planning with the actual progress of the project.”  

The idea for this project came out of Pereira’s own student experience when he felt he was unable to accurately test how plans would end up working in the future. 

“Most of the material that I received in was 2D drawings and it was really difficult to understand the projects,” he says. “As (students), we were supposed to make a project plan and our final (assignment) was to submit this project plan, and we never tested if the plan would work, and how uncertainties would impact the project.”  

Just because something is planned well doesn’t mean it will work out as expected, Pereira says, which is why the ability to explore potential scenarios with an ever-evolving project through VR and desktop gaming is so helpful to prepare students for real-world scenarios and strengthen their decision-making.

“You need still to deliver your project, regardless of if it goes according to the plan or not,” he says. “So, it's really important for the students to understand the risks. You can take all the mitigation strategies that you want in your project, but some risks may still happen. And I should equip students with the ability to analyze the project performance and make decisions for delivery of the project within the budget and cost.”  

Examples of decision-making students will face include choosing subcontractors and insurance, and how to allocate funds.

Because of the immersion, the students are more engaged, Pereira says. “They are enjoying this experience, most likely because they can be the ‘winners’ of the game, but, by being the winners, they are developing better plans and taking decisions during the project implementation to make sure that they are able to have the highest profit of the project,” he says.

Pereira plans to continue developing VR software, with his next project being a game focusing on safety and helping students find and access hazards on job sites.

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