It Is Rocket Science

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When a Mars Rover crosses Marathon Valley, Juno orbits Jupiter, or a Cassini Spacecraft surveys Saturn’s Rings, it’s the pioneering work of Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Realizing the visions of the lab’s engineers involves years of planning and production. Unfortunately, some of the intricate production processes can endanger technicians and equipment alike, so training must be rigorous.

The laboratory recently collaborated with Virginia Tech’s School of Education to create technology-based training solutions that are both effective and flexible.

“As the lab shifts to just-in-time learning options, it needs to incorporate best practices in its training,” says Barbara Lockee, an education professor who specializes in instructional design and technology. “That’s how we became involved.” A trio of past and present instructional design and technology students—Andrew Hopun and Adrienne Young, who earned master’s degrees in 2016, and current master’s student Trent Dawson—worked with Lockee to develop curricula that addressed crucial safety issues.

The Virginia Tech team launched their project in the summer of 2016 with a visit to the laboratory in Pasadena, California, a venture supported by a donation from Jeffrey Rudd (philosophy ’83). Team members have since designed interactive, online modules based on principles of instructional design and human learning.

“We’re so fortunate to engage with Jet Propulsion Laboratory colleagues in real-world instructional development experiences that meet an urgent need,” Lockee says. “We’re also grateful for Dr. Rudd’s generous support.”