Developments in virtual reality for learning at Loyalist College
In September 2012, Loyalist College launched its Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), hosting all of its simulations for learning in an environment custom built using Unity 3D authoring system. The first steps in this process were outlined in a previous Pocket of Innovation entitled Simulations for Learning: Creating a Virtual Environment for Learning at Loyalist College.
Simulations at Loyalist had previously been created using the open source online virtual world, Second Life, such as Border Simulation: Student Learning in A Virtual World, described in Contact North | Contact Nord’s Pockets of Innovations Series. All of the simulations have now been recreated in Virtual Learning Environment.
With a focus on creating new opportunities for students, simulations provide opportunities for experiential learning in a situation that resembles real life as closely as possible. They also offer adaptive learning as the students’ choices receive instant feedback and opportunities for correction. As described by Amineh Olad, Learning Technologies Facilitator at Loyalist College, the simulations are structured to create “representational fidelity”.
Two recent projects, Eco Walk and Campus Clinical, demonstrate how simulations can be used for practical learning.
Eco Walk: Eco Walk is a virtual field trip in which each student is required to identify mushroom and fungi found in the virtual forest, ravine, and fields. When the student finds a specimen, it can be detached from the tree, rotated, and examined. It can then be matched to specimens in the online field guide, and its name, measurements, colour, location, and other characteristics logged and submitted to the professor.
Campus Clinical: Seven simulations will comprise Campus Clinical. The first one on neo-natal care is complete and is in use, with student and faculty feedback informing the development of the other units. In the neonatal simulation, students must pick the right protective clothing before entering any of the four examinations rooms. The four rooms necessitate tasks of increasing complexity; with the first one involving the taking and recording of vital signs, such as heart and respiration rates. The student chooses the proper equipment for each task, undertakes the task with the support of such virtual tools as a clock for timing of heart rate, and records the results.
The simulation provides instant feedback on errors, allowing the student to correct and repeat their actions. All recorded results are sent to the professor, including a list of all errors committed. These error reports can serve as the basis for group debriefings of the experience or individual feedback from professor to student.
A simulation to provide practice in the treatment of patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is under development. As explained by Amineh Olad, the first step is to consult the package on the simulation exercises currently undertaken by students using mannequins, as these are all extensively peer-reviewed practices. The development team also spends time watching the students interact with the mannequins to get a better understanding of the flow of activities and the handling of the various instruments. With this background, and in close communication with faculty, it is determined how these experiences can be recreated in a virtual environment. An interactive medical administration record is being built into the scenario so that the students record the drugs administered to the virtual patients, the dosages and times, and submit this electronically to the professor.
The COPD simulation is more complex than the earlier one on neonatal care and will serve as the model for the others to be built on topics such as cardiac dysfunction and acute stroke. Liam Edwards, Lead Artist at Loyalist College, describes how future scenarios will allow for choices to be made concerning patient treatment that are not optimal – such as the timing of medications – and the scenarios will develop in different directions related to the student decisions. For this reason, they are far more complex and demanding of time, creativity, and faculty involvement.
Other simulations available through Virtual Learning Environment include one on health and safety for nurses, and another for students studying to be police officers which simulate a traffic accident scene. The officer can control the scene with pylons, measure aspects of the accident scene, assess circumstances, and submit reports. An interview scenario has classmates taking on the roles of interviewee and interviewers; the virtual reality setting supports more professionalism and seriousness than in a face-to-face practice session.
Outcomes and Benefits
Students who participate in the simulation exercises have increased motivation, engagement, and confidence, as they apply their learning from classes, readings, and assignments; they are better prepared in both skills and attitude for their clinical and workplace placements.
Campus Clinical offers a far more cost-effective practice environment for the students than the use of the expensive mannequins for practical learning. These mannequins can now be reserved for more advanced, complex practice, as the students work through the simulations to gain experience and confidence in many essential skills. In addition, procedures can be done in the virtual world that were not possible with mannequins.
Among VLE’s advantages is the capacity for single student experience, so that each student can work through relevant scenarios on their own, completing assessments and assignments. The system can support multiple student users at the same time.
Liam Edwards describes how student access is achieved through one step on the student portal; they are provided with the essential tools of camera control and text and voice as communications options. They then have access to the simulation specific to their program. Customization is as simple as clicking on the uniform for the role the student is adopting – nurse, border guard, police officer, etc.
Faculty recognize the validity of virtual learning and make proposals for additional VLE simulations. The proposals are considered based on the applicability of virtual reality, timing, resources necessary and other factors. Cooperation with faculty throughout the development process is essential.
Challenges and Enhancements
One design challenge is ensuring that the virtual practice session is as applicable and realistic as possible for the student. It should effectively utilize and assess the skills and learning they have already acquired in a setting that challenges and supports them. To ensure realism, fact-checking and accuracy assessments are constant activities during the development and assessment stages.
In their evaluation of the first of the Campus Clinical simulations on neonatal care, the students questioned the need to perform the tasks in the order that the simulation required. In the simulations now under development, the students are able to determine the order in which they perform the tasks – with a strict order mandatory only when it would be essential in real-life situations.
Within the next year, Virtual Learning Environment will be connected directly to the learning management system (LMS), making the submission, marking, and recording of results of assignments easier. Assignments that involve quizzes with multiple choice and similar questions will be able to be marked through the LMS, responding to a request from faculty.
Each student chooses an avatar to represent him or her in the virtual world from a selection of two male and two female characters. This selection will be broadened to be more inclusive.
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