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Whitireia Uses Avatar Games To Take Hands-on Lab Learning For Its Nurses Online

Whitireia has quickly pivoted to using its cutting-edge online virtual reality programmes to ensure that its nursing students can continue with the practical elements of their programmes while in lockdown.

“The practical hands-on side of a nursing degree is essential,” says Carmel Haggerty, Head of Whitireia and WelTec School of Health and Social Services.

“That is how our students learn what to do when they are out in the field. Luckily, Whitirea was an early adopter of virtual simulation learning which meant that as soon as lockdown happened we were able to keep the continuum of learning.

Phil Hawes, clinical lab manager at Whitireia explains how Whitireia is the only organisation to currently use this Avatar-like technology for teaching.

“The Vsim programme simulates clinical environments or medical situations, the students take on the role of the nurse in avatar form and have to respond to the patient, the patient in turn responds to action taken.

“For example, patient’s reactions will inform the student if something is not happening correctly or needs to be changed, like if more oxygen is required, or if a temperature should have been taken.

“Students can also ask questions to doctors as if they were in a ward, and can access their textbooks online for information during their sessions.

“Scenarios can be repeated as often as the student likes to ensure they get it right. They can also take quizzes before or after the session to refresh knowledge and can compete with each other,” says Phil.

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Jaki Clarke, a third year bachelor of nursing student says the virtual simulation is like aspects of class. “It's really great for engaging with other students and while it is far from normal it is a good alternative. We were supposed to go out on clinical placements when lockdown was announced, this made many of us anxious about how we would get enough placement hours for our degree. While the simulation cannot replace those hours, it is a way of keeping up.”

Phil explains how the sessions are done in small groups via Zoom. This means tutors can comment and guide, and students can collaborate with each other, bounce ideas, debrief and talk. This has been an important part of keeping the students engaged.

Whitireia has rolled out the virtual simulation to all nursing degree programmes at Whitireia.

“The virtual simulation team, which we call, Spase (SPaSE) which stands for Science, Praxis, Simulation and Education has been absolutely flat out with requests to run the programme across student groups,” says Phil.

“This is because the virtual simulation has been an invaluable way to replace what we would have been doing with the students in our simulation labs.

Whitireia was an early adopter of using virtual reality and simulation learning for its nursing programmes, it is headed up by Phil, who was hired in 2011 as the first Clinical Lab Manager in the tertiary nursing sector and now has a team of nine who are highly skilled and committed .

“Early on at Whitireia we realised that interactive and simulation technology was essential for producing health graduates who are work, and emergency, ready,” says Ms Haggerty.

“This has made the transition to online learning so much easier for our practical courses.

“Prior to the lockdown, using this technology, we were aiming to be completely textbook and paper free. Looks like this might happen sooner rather than later!” says Carmel Haggerty.

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