KTECH VR students 'bake' doughnuts to learn basics


Making a doughnut without flour, butter, sugar or any other conventional ingredients might sound like a near-impossible task, but it’s one of the first skills students in KTECH’s Virtual Reality (VR) Academy learn.


That’s because their doughnuts, while they may look like the real thing, aren't edible; they’re not even "real.” They exist in the virtual world.


Instead of creating them in the kitchen, students use computer software to build a model of their doughnut — complete with icing and sprinkles — and give it texture to look like the real deal.


VR Academy students use a 3D program called Blender to make their objects and then use Unreal Engine to place items in a virtual space.


“It gives them the understanding of how to make something in a 3D modeling program and put it into Unreal Engine, so they can use it in their scenes and their different projects,” said KTECH instructor Karl Liggin. The two programs are freely available on the internet and were chosen so that students can use them outside of the VR Academy classroom if they choose.


The doughnut is the first step toward learning the basics and then picking their own object to make and use in virtual reality. They will eventually use Blender and Unreal to build their own game, and it won’t be as easy as making a doughnut.


A screenshot from KTECH student Madelyn Saxby's VR project in progress, titled Walkabout.


“After they’ve done it, they might say ‘oh, this is great. I can make anything,’” Liggin said. “Sure, you can make anything. But also it takes time, effort, planning — all of those different things teenagers aren’t used to thinking about and honestly, some grownups aren’t used to thinking about.”


Each student has a plan and milestones they need to reach during their individual project’s development phase. They then will work together as a team on another project.


That’s one of the underlying lessons KTECH’s VR Academy teaches: On top of learning to design and develop in a digital world, students learn how to work on individual resources that are part of a larger project.


“What’s going to happen is someone’s going to know how to do something, and another person is going to say ‘I don’t know how to it. I’ve been working on it and I can’t figure it out,’” said KTECH instructor Ed Brunner. “So the more they help each other, the better and faster they’re going to be able to get their project done.”


After finishing his doughnut, Grissom High School student Andrew Sithole started planning to create a game that will require players to repel waves of enemies. He said he enjoys what he’s learning in the VR Academy and what it’s allowing him to do.


“You’re able to express your creativity,” Sithole said. “I’m able to do essentially what I put my mind to, and the only limit is yourself.”


Students from Huntsville City Schools, Madison City Schools, and Randolph School are taking part in this most recent session of the KTECH VR Academy, which is the second beta class in the program. Students can earn computer science college credit in the program.


KTECH, a workforce training initiative of the Kids to Love Foundation, has produced 253 certifications in Mechatronics, Robotics, Solid Edge, and Soldering since 2016. KTECH’s first open session of the VR Academy will be open to the public this fall. For more information about KTECH’s classes, visit goktech.org.

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