Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Using Second Life in Education

You can date in Second Life. You can try out new marketing schemes. You can attend a play at the Globe Theatre. Second Life, an online virtual world, began in 2003 as a place to meet others and socialize. But an increasing number of colleges and universities are embracing it as a tool to reach students raised on computers and video games. Users can create avatars and interact in realistic spaces and communities.

According to an article in the Dallas News, the University of Texas at Dallas, Southern Methodist University, and the Dallas County Community College District all have a presence in Second Life. Students don't necessarily sign up for a course in Second Life, but their professors may incorporate Second Life as an added dimension to the learning environment. Virtual campuses may replicate actual campus buildings or they may offer opportunities/facilities not available on campus. The possibilities are endless. One student even conducted a research project on human behavior in Second Life. One professor was able to bring business processes to life by allowing his students to virtually track an order. One theater major worked on a group project to build a theater and re-create scenes from Shakespeare. Matthew Campbell presented the results of the pilot study at the ascilite Auckland 2009 conference for using Second Life for an ethics course.

The medical field has long been involved in the use of simulations and other interactive programs to allow their students to practice skills. However, instructors are now venturing into the world of Second Life to provide an interactive 3D, participatory experience. According to Discover magazine, students can learn their way around an OR before they enter the real thing in the virtual copy of an operating room or they can test their knowledge in the Virtual Respiratory War--all part of Imperial College London’s virtual hospital. Clinical students at San Jose University can use the Heart Murmur Sim to listen to real cardiac sounds to identify heart murmurs.  Nursing students at the University of Auckland in New Zealand have been able to participate in a postpartum-hemorrhage sim since last January.

The MUVErs Medical Simulation, launched in early 2009 by John Miller, a nursing instructor at Tacoma Community College, involves an avatar patient operating with a set script who is experiencing chest pain and other symptoms. The student must interact with the patient, ask the right questions, and “use” equipment such as IV pumps, defibrillators, and medication to treat the problem. The Nursing Education SIM (NESIM) has been recognized by the Chronicle of Higher Education, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Nurseweek Magazine, and many other publications and blogs. Check out the these videos on Youtube for a virtual walkthrough.

The program requires students wear a headset with a display similar to those used by pilots, which shows data like the patient’s blood pressure, heart rhythm, and medical history. They can click on objects such as the medication dispenser or the controls of an IV pump, which triggers another  display allowing students to make selections to use the machines. The patient avatar reacts realistically--if a students gives too much medication, the patient will exhibit the appropriate response, such as low blood pressure and shock.

While no studies have emerged about the benefits of using Second Life to educate students, it offers a richer set of resources, often with lower costs than training in a physical space such as an operating room. In addition, creating 3D models/simulations provides users with the opportunity of "treating" diseases and symptoms not often encountered in real life. Instead of purchasing expensive equipment, colleges and universities can have students use virtual versions. Second Life also offers the opportunity of bringing in experts from around the world to speak to students.

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