Learning in a virtual world
posted April 9th, 2010
This scene from the 3DiTeams video game features some of the realistic medical environment users experience as they practice working together to care for their virtual patients. PHOTO COURTESY JEFF TAEKMAN
First person video games have been all the rage for years, with better and more sophisticated graphics making on-screen movements increasingly life-like. This winter’s blockbuster film “Avatar” was a science-fiction tale of characters who controlled representations of themselves to maneuver on another planet. Jeff Taekman, M.D., assistant dean of education technology, envisions another, more useful application for video game simulation: training clinicians. Students use their avatars, the user’s computerized alter ego, to work with other clinicians to take care of virtual patients.He’s currently investigating this prospect with a prototype game called 3DiTeams. Users are assigned an avatar in a virtual hospital setting and tasked with different patient care responsibilities.
“The purpose of this program is to practice working together. The beauty of it is that trainees can work remotely from anywhere, as long as they have a computer with internet access,” said Taekman during a recent demonstration. He’s noticed that most students take to the game rather quickly. “I can tell almost immediately who plays video games for fun,” said Taekman, as those folks usually start exploring their virtual world off the bat.
During the game, team members must establish who’s in charge and learn to communicate with each other to accomplish a medical procedure. The U.S. Army, which has used such virtual environments for over a decade to help train soldiers, helped fund 3Di Teams. The game is still being studied to measure students’ knowledge, skills, and attitude gains versus the use of other simulation technology and iron out bugs before it can be used en masse, commented Taekman.
3DiTeams is the first step in Taekman’s larger vision for a Duke-wide Immersive Learning Environment called ILE@D. Funded by the Nanaline Duke Trust, with Ed Buckley, M.D., vice dean of medical education, as P.I., ILE@D is a 5-year grant to work on an interactive virtual world for the School of Medicine, Graduate Medical Education, and the School of Nursing. “There is a pressing need for new and innovative methods of health care education that can reduce yet enhance faculty-student interactions, increase flexibility with respect to the time and location where the educational activity occurs, and keep students engaged and excited about learning,” wrote Taekman in the proposal.
“Virtual reality environments can serve to facilitate learning in a very dynamic and interactive way. The current generation of students is comfortable with games, Facebook, and the like. Using these concepts to facilitate learning makes prefect sense and may be superior to our current practice. We hope to be able to create a platform like Powerpoint, but for virtual learning. Individuals interested in using virtual learning environments can utilize a set of tools to develop a robust educational experience. Dr. Taekman has extensive experience in this arena and we are excited about the possibilities going forward,” said Buckley.
While video games will never take the place of hands-on procedural training, they can add to skills developed through face-to-face instruction and help unite students here in Durham, at Duke’s Singapore campus or elsewhere in a virtual 3-dimensional medical school.
Virtual environments are already in use in the School of Nursing and School of Medicine. The School of Nursing built a virtual school using Second Life, a free online 3-D virtual world as a platform. Students working remotely in the 3-D world reported feeling less isolated and feeling more engaged with the instruction. The School of Medicine offers similar online experiences for students in Durham and in Singapore with shared digital lectures and video.
“Our hope is to engage people throughout the university to look for commonalities toward a virtual approach to learning,” said Taekman. “Right now we're working on specifications with the help of students, faculty, and industry. We plan to develop specifications and an RFP from these sessions.” ■
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