Rob Theriault is the Immersive Technology Manager at Georgian College. He has been a paramedic for the past 35 years and an educator for the past 20 years. After integrating virtual reality (VR) into the Paramedic program, he proposed that virtual and augmented reality needed leadership to encourage adoption at the college. The rest is history…
Georgian is exploring and integrating XR (virtual, mixed and augmented reality) in a variety of programs.
VR is a relatively new and compelling medium for experiential learning. At a recent Research and Innovation Lunch and Learn event, Rob explained that his motivation to improve how students learn stems from the fact that he completed both of his degrees virtually ― experiences he found both frustrating and isolating.
Rob first encountered VR at a paramedic conference. Someone was using a headset and there was a screen displaying what they could see in VR for the rest of the group. Watching the screen was underwhelming, but when Rob put on the headset he was completely immersed.
Suddenly, he was standing in front of a patient, in the patient’s home, and could hear him struggling to breathe. This VR experience gave Rob the same twinge of adrenaline that he gets working as a paramedic in the field. With VR, you have to step into it to experience it and it feels real even though part of your brain knows it’s not. It’s the only educational technology where students can learn in the psychomotor ― affective ― cognitive domains.
Rob introduced VR into the paramedic program as a mass casualty triage incident and has grown XR initiatives at Georgian organically. Walk by his office and he might just step out and ask you to try on a VR headset.
A variety of programs and initiatives at Georgian have embraced XR and see the value it brings to student learning.
Some of Georgian’s current XR activities
- Architectural Technology students model buildings in 3D and use VR to immerge into their projects and experience the space they designed
- Indigenous Studies faculty and students meet once per week with an elder in VR
- Vet Tech students use VR for animal dissections
- Advanced Care Paramedic students use voice recognition and artificial intelligence to take charge of the scene and provide patient care
- Biotech and Nursing programs are conducting a study where students are randomized into standard or VR experiences. Notably, one student in the VR group described it as their first hands-on experience since the start of the pandemic
- Events Management students create and run events, like art exhibitions, using a variety of XR programs
- Trades are learning to work at heights in VR
- Nursing uses SimX, a VR lab moderated by faculty. In this program two students enter a patient’s room to provide care. They can use a stethoscope to listen to their patient’s chest, talk to the patient and the patient’s family, and call a doctor and get further orders. This embodied cognition ― the combination of assessing a patient, developing a nursing diagnosis, and being able to do things with their hands ― is difficult to replicate unless you’re in the hospital (especially challenging during the pandemic)
In VR, students can learn in dangerous and impossible spaces that are infinitely scalable.Rob gave the example of a professor who meets students in VR on a large-scale Sars COVID-2 virus. Their avatars are small enough that they can play with the proteins and interact with other components of the virus, bringing their learning to life.
If you haven’t tried VR yourself, it might be surprising to hear that you have agency within virtual spaces. For example, if you move your avatar too close to someone else, you’ll get the same sense of presence as you do in the real world and you’ll respond by taking a step backward.
You can do things with your hands, and while you don’t have the same tactile sensation, the process of going through the steps in VR is valuable.
To highlight this, Rob shared the results of a study conducted in 2020 at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Los Angeles, California. It compared two groups of students mastering the same surgical procedure. Those who had practised in VR performed better on their final evaluation than those who didn’t have the VR experience.
What’s next for XR?
Rob predicts biometrics will play an important role, especially given the widespread adoption of wearable technology like the Apple watch or Fitbit. Devices like these that monitor the user’s pulse, heart rate and respiration rate make it possible to measure an individual’s cognitive load. The implication for medical and emergency services is that they’ll be able to incorporate stress resiliency into their training programs.
VR learning experiences are meant to supplement traditional teaching practices ― not to replace them. Building on the current success in the Georgian community, Rob hopes to expand our XR offerings.
Here are some VR learning simulations that might be coming to a virtual Georgian campus near you:
- Flame: a mixed reality experience where a firefighter student has a VR headset and a device that measures their breath rate. They hold a heavy hose instead of a controller and can fight 20 to 40 different types of fires
- Tiltbrush: students can sculpt and paint in VR and 3D print their creations
- Equal Reality: a space that focuses on diversity and inclusion where participants experience cultural micro-aggressions with the goal of identifying and eliminating their cultural biases
- Tankership: a marine simulator where Georgian will create a digital twin of an engine room to allow marine students to prepare for the real thing
XR is a powerful teaching tool and advancements in this space are creating new employment opportunities for our graduates. It’s our job to make sure they’re ready for the future of work.
Have you incorporated XR into your course or program?
Let us know in the comments below.
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