Since launching its innovative VR project, STRIPE VR, the Sonoco Institute has made tremendous strides with this virtual print training tool aimed at assisting the printing industry with workforce recruitment and training. Shortly after the 2020 pandemic hit, the tool was modified to launch a browser-based companion — STRIPE Online. This online version was made accessible to Clemson Graphic Communications instructor, Michelle Fox, and her students, to test integrating it into her GC and Packaging Science flexography curriculum.
Now in her third semester utilizing STRIPE Online, Fox shares valuable insights on its uses and applications beyond her Clemson classroom.
Sonoco Institute (SI): How have you and your students been using STRIPE Online this year?
Michelle Fox (MF): My students and I were given access to STRIPE Online at the tail end of the spring semester when Clemson University moved to online. With it, I set up a series of scenarios for my GC 1030 class, which is made up of Packaging Science students. The first day at home, they watched a video of me walking around the virtual pressroom and the Sonoco Institute’s OMET printing press, pointing out parts and pieces, and then I had them explore the components themselves. Then, I guided them on how to make changes to the press (for example, go to the first station, over-impress the black ink and then take a screenshot for me).
GC 1030 remained online throughout the summer. Nate Newsome, the institute’s VR project lead, was amazing at taking our feedback from the spring on STRIPE Online’s usability and features. The growth from spring to summer was astounding. Students who had actual hands-on experience in the Sonoco Institute’s pressroom were in awe of how accurate the virtual scenario was. Over the summer, I was able to set up press problems and have the students go through and fix the problems for me.
Now, this fall, I am teaching GC 1040 as a hybrid course (a mixture of in-person and online) with the option of online only. These GC students are getting an introduction to flexography by identifying press components and getting used to different press scenarios. Some of their learning outcomes include the influence of impression, how density values fluctuate, how press components work together and a review of pressroom safety features.
Given that we were all pulled away from in-person labs in the spring, it has been great to have an online experience available to those that choose to take the course as online only. It is also a tool for in-person students to further their understanding and gain more ‘hands-on’ experience.
SI: In what ways have you seen STRIPE Online evolve over the past year?
MF: To me, the biggest evolution has been that I can set up a press run scenario and then download a digital copy of the final printed file that I can send to students for their use. The ability to create unique scenarios that focus on specific concepts is a wonderful asset. This has been one of the most mind-blowing and useful things possible. When you have students who are very new to everything, to be able to show them these comparisons is amazing.
Different ways of teaching have different success levels and levels of student retention. Adding the ability to create a scenario that students must troubleshoot really shows mastery of concept and understanding. As STRIPE Online evolves, so will my ability to ask more and more in-depth questions to show an even deeper mastery of concept. It is moving in a way that you can teach more advanced flexo knowledge. The opportunities spread across a wide gamut of knowledge. The potential is great.
The VR team also added in more trouble-shooting and critical thinking aspects. As an instructor, I feel like the VR team is truly looking out for educators during this development in terms of usability. It is great to have that feeling of support. This is growing into something ridiculously amazing.
SI: How have your students responded to using STRIPE Online?
MF: Feedback from students is wonderful and positive! After using it, they ask if they can do more with it. In the spring, I immediately knew that this was going to be something big. Students who did internships in industry were even commenting on how accurate it was. They were not expecting the quality that they saw.
SI: How might have things been different if you did not have access to STRIPE Online during the pandemic?
MF: Outside of STRIPE Online, I can go into the actual pressroom and record myself during a press run for students, but in the education realm, students retain knowledge by doing. Pre-recorded video tutorials can result in a limited retention of knowledge… much less than students actually putting their hands on the work. Having this tool has allowed students to gain accessibility. My videos can only do so much. Even if I have students Zoom in and tell me what to do, it’s not the same as being hands-on. STRIPE Online increases the students’ depth of knowledge and infuences their perception of the process, because they’re able to actually do things in the virtual pressroom.
SI: Do you see applications for this across education and the printing industry beyond 2020?
MF: Think about all of the colleges who don’t have access to a virtual tool like this who teach flexography. Look at the number of tech schools who don’t teach flexo – this would be an amazing curriculum integration, even without them having a press. This could open up so many doors for schools who don’t have these kinds of resources.
I could also see this benefitting K12 schools, especially high school career centers, because they have even fewer resources than colleges and tech schools. In online teaching scenarios, they often don’t even have access to computers with the Adobe Creative Suite on them. I know that there are so many teachers out there who could benefit from something like this.
In terms of industry, think of artists or press assistants who are stepping into the field for the first time who need to get their hands on the process to learn. Sure, they can shadow, but this type of tool would give them more flexibility in timing. The problem with shadowing is that they can’t get authentic hands-on experience because they can’t afford to mess up a customer’s order. It would cause a big problem. So, introducing this to press helpers, sales people and others who don’t get that hands-on experience with the process, will benefit from exposure to this.
SI: Do you plan to continue utilizing STRIPE Online? How?
MF: I definitely see it being used moving forward. With labs, we’re often in a ‘hurry up and wait’ situation for equipment to become available. Using STRIPE Online in tandem with an in-person experience would be amazing. Can you imagine how much more comfortable students will be with the process?
As we get out of the pandemic and return to normal, thinking towards how we can incorporate this into what students are already doing, as an extra tool, is critically important. It will be up to instructors to be creative and take the lead on that.
Being given access to STRIPE Online is like getting a new printing press. You’re going to start learning it and building it into your curriculum – except it’s virtual!
“We’re grateful for our corporate sponsors that see the value in developing a tool such as this for educators in graphic communications,” added Bobby Congdon, assistant director. “We look forward to distributing STRIPE Online to more educators so that their students can engage in this interactive online learning, especially in our current situation.”
Click here to learn more about STRIPE VR and STRIPE Online.