Virtual Reality the future reality at Georgian

Just outside of a patient’s room, two nursing students meet, wash their hands and don their personal protective equipment. Then, they enter the patient’s room to conduct an assessment. Inside the room, other classmates are standing along the walls, observing. One student reaches for the patient’s wrist to feel her pulse. It’s fast.

Meanwhile, the other nursing student asks the patient questions and looks at the heart monitor to see her vital signs. A stethoscope is used listen to the chest and reveals that her lungs are wheezing. The students immediately recognize that their patient needs a Ventolin treatment.

“This experience did not take place in a hospital or even a nursing lab. It took place in virtual reality (VR), with the instructor and nursing students separated by significant distances,” says Rob Theriault, the Immersive Technology Lead at Georgian College. “This isn’t just virtual reality, it’s the future reality.”

Learning through video conferencing and textbooks works well in many remote teaching situations, but health-care students learn better by their teacher in a face-to-face, virtual reality hospital, anatomy lab or cadaver lab. Trades students benefit by being at a construction site. Until recently, this was only possible in real life. Now, wearing a VR headset immerses students in an entirely new world of the professor’s choosing.

“Virtual reality, unlike any other educational technology, provides experiential learning, where students can do things with their hands, think critically and make decisions that have measurable results,” says Rob.

“Georgian has already been exploring VR and simulation technologies in a variety of our programs. It only makes sense for Georgian to accelerate these efforts and continue to be a leader,” says Kevin Weaver, Vice President, Academic. “Georgian, even before COVID-19, was intentionally moving in this direction. It is even more important now as we find ourselves not being able to execute in-person activity at this time.”

Paramedic student using virtual reality gear.
Paramedic students at Georgian have already benefited from virtual reality technology.

As a professor in the Paramedic program, Rob was seconded to the position well before COVID-19, illustrating the importance Georgian had already placed on immersive technology and experiential learning platforms.

“Georgian saw the opportunity and the strategic need to invest so that we were positioned to take a leadership position. Appointing an immersive technology faculty lead is critical as we need a champion and expert in immersive technology to guide us in this new direction,” notes Kevin. “Fortuitously, our lead is a frontrunner in this activity and was actively implementing these technologies into health programming. Having a peer to work with in the program areas to explore this technology is critical to success.”

Students in the Architectural Technology program have been learning and designing in VR for more than two years. Georgian’s paramedic students were introduced to VR for patient simulation in 2019, and many more programs are currently exploring VR’s potential.

Architectural Technology and Technician students design homes using Autodesk Revit and explore the spaces they design using VR technology.

Faculty in the Honours Bachelor of Science – Applied Life Sciences (Specialization in Biomedical Techniques) Degree with Biotechnology-Health Diploma program are exploring Nanome, a VR program that enables students to manipulate molecules, experiment, design and learn at the nanoscale. Students in the Fine Arts program recently learned how to paint and sculpt in VR using Tilt Brush, and faculty in the Indigenous Studies program are exploring alternative ways to conduct “learning on the land” activities, using 360-degree video and the EngageVR platform.

The absence of face-to-face labs and hands-on learning has only increased the urgency of having the technology, and Rob is currently working on a plan to invest in more hardware and software for a number of different programs.

“The largest investment at this point is in hardware, software and time, as Georgian continues to explore opportunities to introduce VR strategies into programming where the opportunity exists,” says Kevin, adding that Georgian has also established a VR space in the library for students to access the technology once the Barrie campus reopens.

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