Engineering students from VAMK participated in a unique pedagogical experiment at Wärtsilä

The English-language energy technology students of Vaasa University of Applied Sciences (VAMK) have been involved in a unique pedagogical study investigating the suitability and effectiveness of various training methods in Wärtsilä's engine maintenance training. The study compares the effectiveness of three different training methods. Students (test subjects) participated in 1) traditional hands-on practical training (activity around the engine) held on-site, or 2) remote training (conducted via Teams, also utilizing animations and videos), or 3) training utilizing virtual reality on-site. The students were second-year energy technology students from VAMK, the trainers were from Wärtsilä Land and Sea Academy (WLSA), and the training took place at WLSA's facilities in Vaskiluoto, Vaasa, in February 2024. The researcher in the study is Vida Shokati, a master's student in Åbo Akademi's Teaching and Learning program, whose thesis is related to this research, with the university lecturer in Educational Sciences Khalil Gholami from ÅA as the thesis supervisor. From VAMK, the training was followed and organized by Principal Lecturer Lotta Saarikoski and Senior Lecturer Shekhar Satpute. Such tripartite cooperative research on vocational education pedagogy has never been done before in VAMK's history, and as we believe, neither at Wärtsilä nor at Åbo Akademi. Next, we will provide more detailed information about this research and its progress.

TEXT | Lotta Saarikoski and Vida Shokati

Background and subject of the study

The idea for this research, which investigates the effectiveness of different training methods and especially the use of virtual reality in training (“Effectiveness of Virtual Reality in Wärtsilä Internal Technical Training: Higher Education Learners’ and Instructor’s Perspectives”), originated when Vida Shokati, who was interning at Wärtsilä, began to inquire about the possibility of conducting her master’s thesis research at Wärtsilä. Vida, who already held a master’s degree in English language teaching from Iran, was interested in exploring real-world problems and particularly the effectiveness of training methods, an area she had already studied in her first thesis. At Wärtsilä, Vida met with the head of WLSA, with whom she found a shared research interest because Wärtsilä has been investing significantly in virtual reality and training facilitated through it. There was a desire for more research data and concrete training experiences regarding the effectiveness of this learning environment. There was a need for more researched information on what the most effective way is to train Wärtsilä’s customers and their own maintenance personnel in performing engine maintenance procedures. With the help of new technologies, training can now be conducted in ways other than traditional physical training facilities, involving hands-on activities in engine maintenance. Due to the COVID-19 epidemic, remote teaching tools and software have advanced greatly, and with more powerful computers and new simulation software, the construction and use of virtual reality models, etc., have become possible. Additionally, new types of engines are entering the market, but it is not possible to acquire all new engine versions for WLSA’s training centers. Therefore, new training methods need to be introduced, and virtual reality as a learning environment is one promising possibility. It may also potentially save on training costs and yield better learning outcomes. However, it is necessary to determine how virtual reality works in practice and what learning outcomes it achieves compared to traditional training methods.

The study has two research questions:

  1. How effective is the use of virtual reality in learning theoretical knowledge about the engine itself and the process of removing the piston? (this was chosen as a concrete procedure to be trained for the subjects)
  2. How effective is the use of virtual reality in learning practical skills, i.e., actually removing the piston?

These research questions are addressed through experimental research, where the subjects were international energy technology students from the second year of VAMK’s English-language program, divided into 3 different groups (each group consisting of 5 students), and each group received their own four-hour training session on Wärtsilä engines and the process of removing the piston from one engine type. The training for the first group took place entirely online via Teams (see Figure 1), and videos and animations were also used. Other participants than the trainer himself have been removed from the screenshot.

In this image number  1 we can see a screenshot from the computer screen  and on  it we can  see two Wärtsilä engines and the  Teams setup can also be  seen  on the screen.
Image 1. The online lesson of the remote learning group, conducted via Teams. (Photo by L. Saarikoski)

The second group participated in hands-on training on-site at WLSA’s facilities. They studied engine parts and operation next to the engine itself, and they performed the concrete maintenance procedure being studied under the guidance of the instructor, using the maintenance manual as a reference. In Image 2, part of the contact teaching training group is seen at Wärtsilä`s Sustainable Technology Hub (STH) after the training session, with WLSA`s Trainer Harry Johansson, VAMK´s representative Principal Lecturer Lotta Saarikoski, and Åbo Akademi´s Master’s student Vida Shokati.

In this image number two we see a group of people consisting of 5 women and one man and most of them are wearing overalls and there is a big Wärtsilä logo on the wall behind the group which is standing  in the staircases of  a corridor.
Image 2. The in-person training group after the training session. (Photo by E. Krooks)

The third group also attended on-site at WLSA’s facilities but in a different space, immersed in a virtual world where the same topics and procedures were covered as in the previous two groups. The students and the trainer wore virtual reality headsets and hand controllers, and the training itself took place entirely in virtual reality, where a model of the Wärtsilä engine and its entire environment were simulated. In Image 3, two students from the group are seen participating in the training conducted in virtual reality.

In this image number three we can see two students, one male and one female,  sitting on chairs and having virtual glasses on their heads. In front of them there are screens where some virtual reality model is being shown.
Image 3. Students from the virtual training group during the training session. (Photo by L. Saarikoski)

Following their respective training sessions, each group of students underwent a 4-hour-long test the following day. The tests included assessing theoretical knowledge in the classroom (see Image 4) and then both theoretical knowledge and practical skills around a real engine. In total, the training and testing for the three groups spanned four working days. Additionally, the researcher conducting the study interviewed the virtual reality subjects individually.

IN this image number four we see a group of five tudents sitting in a negotiation room beside a long desk  and a black TV screen is situated  in the end of the table. One lady in red jacket is the teacher and she is standing beside the table, The students have laptops in front of them and they are smiling.
Image 4. One of the test groups conducting the theoretical part of the test after the training. (Photo by M. Lähteenmäki)

Progression of the study

The study has involved several phases, and the planning of the experimental setup began in the fall of 2023 when Minna Lähteenmäki, the Director of WLSA’s Finnish Training Center, contacted Lotta Saarikoski at the beginning of November, inquiring about VAMK’s willingness and possibility to participate in such an experimental study. As a pedagogical mentor and an enthusiastic teacher interested in new teaching methods, Lotta was excited about the idea and started exploring a suitable “guinea pig group” among the engineering students. Energy technology lecturer Shekhar Satpute, also enthusiastic about developing teaching methods, joined the project, and together they found a suitable group, ETE2023k, with which this research could be conducted. The English-language energy technology- group was selected as the subjects of the study because it was desired to have a group that may not have much prior knowledge about engines and their maintenance procedures and for whom the use of English in education is daily practice. Additionally, this presented the entire class with a great opportunity to visit Wärtsilä because the first testing, aiming to find as homogenous a test group as possible (15 students), took place at STH on November 30, 2023, and at the same time, the students were introduced to Wärtsilä’s operations and technical documentation, which was part of the course taught by Shekhar that semester. This was the entire class’s first tangible encounter with the local industry. We essentially hit two birds with one stone. The group had been studying remotely in the spring of 2023 and started their studies in Vaasa only in the fall of ’23. Before the visit to Wärtsilä, Shekhar handled the research permits and other formalities for conducting this research. As the group supervisor, he also efficiently handled informing the class and gathering necessary information, among other tasks.

The first phase of the study was thus screening a homogenous test group (15 students) from the class, which consisted of about 40 individuals. The aim was to avoid selecting students with extensive experience in installation work and engines or individuals who might not be interested in practical “screwing” or might be averse to such activities. The group formation was done through a pre-test consisting of a set of questions, conducted electronically on Microsoft Forms during the visit to Wärtsilä. After the test, based on the answers, Vida and her supervisor formed the most homogeneous test group using statistical methods.

The subsequent phases of the study included scheduling and organizing safety training for the selected subjects (see Image 5) on week 6 and arranging the class schedule for week 7 of the spring semester so that the groups could visit Wärtsilä without overlapping with their classes. Fortunately, we were proactive, and the scheduler managed to accommodate these requests in the spring schedule, which worked out very well for the study.

In this image number 5 we see a group of students in a school classroom and they are sitting and in front of the classroom there is the teacher working with the PC. Students are looking at the camera but the teacher is concentrated in operating the PC.
Image 5. Before the visit to Wärtsilä, safety training was organized at VAMK. (Photo by L. Saarikoski)

As mentioned in the previous paragraph, each five-member test group participated in their respective training sessions, and Lotta had the opportunity to observe these trainings and partly the testing situations as well. As of writing this piece, the analysis of the results has only just begun, and the final results will be ready by May. More details will be written about them once Vida’s thesis is completed. The results will also be presented to the class and other interested parties at VAMK in late spring.

Participants’ comments

The practical implementation of the study went well. Vida Shokati (second from the left in Image 6) and Minna Lähteenmäki, the Director of WLSA’s Finnish Training Center (second from the right in Image 6), had organized the schedules, transportation, testing, and other practical matters excellently. The students were very enthusiastic, and all of them mentioned that they had learned a great deal, not only about Wärtsilä’s engine types but also about the theoretical aspects of combustion engines and practical installation work. A significant role in the training itself was played by trainer Harry Johansson (on the right in Image 6), whose calm and encouraging style clearly produced good learning outcomes. The trainer also had an excellent ability to explain complex theoretical concepts in a down-to-earth and concrete manner. Trainer Edvard Krooks (on the left in Image 6) also participated in the hands-on training as well as the final testing for all groups. Overall two Wärtsilä trainers were present.

In this image number 6 we can see four persons who are wearing blue overalls and Wärtsiläs caps. There are two females and two males and they are all smiling.
Image 6. Participants of the study from WLSA’s staff and the thesis author V. Shokati. (Photo by L. Saarikoski)

A significant contribution to the construction of the virtual reality training model and the organization of the virtual training event itself was made by Kasper Söderlund, Senior designer in the training development. Image 7 shows one part of the virtual model which Kasper has been creating with his team. Their virtual model was used in this research.

In this image number seven we can see virtual reality where on room and an engine inside it are being modelled. We can also see some names on the  screen plus some hansets which seem to hang in the air.
Image 7. Virtual reality model. (Photo by K.Söderlund )

According to trainer Harry Johansson it has been valuable in this study to gain a fresh perspective on education through the students. It has been interesting to see how someone with limited experience in the subject learns. Viewing things from a new perspective easily reveals new challenges that trainees may face. This study has also highlighted the importance of considering safety aspects when observing a novice’s learning and behaviour in a concrete hands-on situation. According to trainer Edvard Krooks, it is fascinating to see the various ways in which people can learn, and especially how virtual reality can aid learning. Senior designer Kasper Söderlund is particularly interested in the functioning of virtual reality and models, which he has been developing at Wärtsilä for over five years. He is especially interested in how much of the training can be based on virtual models and what is the right combination of practical hands-on training, virtual reality, and other materials, such as videos, e-learning, or AR (augmented reality). Minna Lähteenmäki, on the other hand, commented that this research collaboration is very important for Wärtsilä in order to to obtain concrete information on the effectiveness of virtual reality and the best ways to utilize it. Therefore it is important to get researched information on this topic, and it was really great that such a unique collaborative project was launched. This research arises from practical needs, and the tripartite research collaboration between Wärtsilä, VAMK, and Åbo Akademi implemented here is truly wonderful.

Follow-up actions

As of writing this piece, Vida has started analyzing the results and writing her thesis. We eagerly await the results. The reporting of the research will be completed by May 2024, and the intention is also to write a conference article and present this research at a European engineering education conference or other event. The results will also be presented in all three organizations. If anyone becomes more interested in using virtual reality in education, they can start by exploring what Philippe et al. (2020) or Hu-Au & Lee (2017) have written on the subject. The virtual education student group in Image 8, like all other participating students and VAMK, thanks Wärtsilä and Vida Shokati, as well as Åbo Akademi, for this excellent joint research project. Hopefully, in the future, we will find similar joint research projects or other joint development projects related to the pedagogical development of education. This project was a wonderful new addition to the active co-operation between VAMK and Wärtsilä.

In this image number eight we can see a group of people standiing in the lobby of Wärtsilä´s factory STH building. There are two females and four males standing in front of a reception desk and one female worker is sitting behind the reception desk. Everybody are smiling. Wärtsilä logo can be seen on the wall behind the group.
Image 8. The virtual reality team expresses gratitude. (Photo by L. Saarikoski)

  • Philippe,S., Souchet,A., Lameras, P., Petridis,P., Caporal,J., Coldeboeuf, G. & Duzan,H. (2020). Multimodal teaching, learning and training in virtual reality: a review and case study, Virtual Reality & Intelligent Hardware, Volume 2, Issue 5, s. 421-442. Imported 19.2.2024 from

  • Hu-Au, E. & Lee, J. (2017). Virtual reality in education: a tool for learning in the experience age. International Journal of Innovation in Education. Vol. 4, No. 4, 215 – 226. Imported 18.2.2024 from

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