Instructional goal and supporting contexts

After carefully thinking about what we would like to do with the Uncle Sam Plantation simulation, the types of open educational resources that we would like to develop, and the manner in which these resources could potentially be used in a class, the dev team has come up with the following instructional goal and supporting contexts. The goal and contexts are, of course, not set in stone and will undoubtedly be modified and polished as work continues on the project.

Instructional goal:
Students will demonstrate an understanding of how sugar was produced at the Uncle Sam plantation during the decade of 1865-75 by detailing, during a class discussion following immersion in a virtual reality simulation of a sugar house on the plantation, the process for turning sugar cane into crystallized sugar that could be packed into hogsheads. Steps in the process include: (1) grinding sugar cane down into juice with steam powered rollers; (2) transporting the juice to the boiling room for cooking in open kettles; (3) moving the clarified sugar into wooden vats for cooling; and (4) packing the crystallized sugar into wooden hogsheads for shipping.

Sociocultural, sociohistorical, and economic contexts:
Students will additionally demonstrate an understanding of the sociocultural contexts surrounding sugar production on the plantation during this time by detailing the impact that race relations had on life at the plantation; how communities were organized and structured around the sugar production process; the roles that were played in the communities and the rules that governed how they were played; the goals and motivations for persons in these communities; and perceived contradictions that these persons may have experienced while participating in multiple communities or while navigating the antithetical goals of different communities. The sociohistorical contexts of sugar production on the Uncle Sam plantation will also be discussed during the debriefing, including the historical development of sugar production at the plantation and how the rules, roles, and makeup of communities and race relations at the plantation changed over time. Students will also discuss the economic contexts of sugar production on the plantation, how they were impacted labor and market goods in the South, and whether the South at this time should be considered capitalist or not.

Metacognitive component:
Students will discuss the risks and benefits of experiencing a historical representation in a virtual reality environment.

One of the immediate challenges I see in the design of the virtual reality simulation is the different domains of learning that are potentially involved. One the one hand, the sociocultural, sociohistorical, and economic contexts are critical thinking and intellectual skills that that require time for reflection and discussion outside of the simulation. On the other hand, the process of how sugar is produced – how the sugar cane was unloaded and milled, and how the resulting extract was cooked in kettles – is essential a series of psychomotor skills involving coordination of physical actions and intellectual know-how. The immersive nature of virtual reality and the sense of presence it provides, I think, lend themselves very well to the teaching of psychomotor skills. The main question I will have moving forward is: How can an immersive, active experience be leveraged to teach intellectual skills, or how can I open the experience to include these skills without breaking the flow of the simulation. I will think about these questions more as the instructional goal and contexts are refined in subsequent instructional design steps and I begin to make activity flowcharts. In any case, I am certain that I will delve a lot deeper into the scientific, industrial, and commercial knowledge networks involved in sugar production at the Uncle Sam plantation during the decade of 1865-75.

Author: David Neville

Dr. David Neville is the Project Lead for the Grinnell College Immersive Experiences Lab (GCIEL). His research interests include immersive computing (3D/VR/AR), digital game-based learning, blended learning, open educational resources, and computer-assisted language learning.

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