Learning and Teaching Investment Fund 2011

Summary of projects

Poster of Project - Using 3D simulation environment to enhance student communication skills and interdisciplinary learning across healthcare disciplines

Project title

Using 3D simulation environment to enhance student communication skills and interdisciplinary learning across healthcare disciplines

Project leaders

Associate Professor Jenny Sim

Project team

  • Dr Jennifer James
  • Dr Marcus McDonald
  • Associate Professor Phillip Maude
  • Dr Denise Wood (University of South Australia)
  • Associate Professor Sheila Scutter (James Cook University)

Project summary

The adoption of virtual 3D simulated learning is a new innovating learning and teaching strategy for the School of Health Sciences and School of Medical Sciences. In 2011, medical imaging, nursing, chiropractic and mental health professionals came together to create a virtual learning experience in Second Life for the four disciplines.

The study aimed to:

1) investigate the use of a 3D simulated environment as a learning platform for health science students to develop effective communication skills with patients; and

2) promote interdisciplinary learning and understanding amongst healthcare students.

To achieve the first objective, the module was offered in four separate components, linked together via a single patient journey - the journey of a patient who was experiencing difficulties in breast feeding her baby. The patient was first seen by the Lactation Consultant, who then referred the patient to the Chiropractic and Mental Health clinics and the Medical Imaging department. Students from each discipline role-played the interactions that occurred between the healthcare practitioner and patient.

To promote interdisciplinary understanding and learning, students were required to participate in blog discussions designed to engage them on issues such as professional roles and responsibilities. Students were also required to observe and reflect on the role-plays from other disciplines.

In summary, students reported an improved understanding of the topic as well as enhancement of patient interviewing and history taking skills. Findings from this study also showed that medical imaging students found avatar learning to be highly effective in assisting them to develop empathy for patients. Furthermore, our results highlighted the increased interdisciplinary understanding students have obtained from participating in blog discussions, with medical imaging students showing the greatest difference in terms of improved understanding. While medical imaging students reported virtual world learning to be fun, interactive and stimulating, a majority identified technological problems they encountered to be extremely frustrating, preventing them from engaging in deeper learning. These findings were consistent with the case studies reported by Bloustien and Wood (2011).

The 2011 study will be presented at two forthcoming international conferences: 2012 INTED Conference and the 2012 ISRRT World Congress. We are currently in the process of writing two papers for peer reviewed publications. Based on the 2011 LTIF project, we are now continuing and extending the virtual learning to include five more disciplines across SEH and DSC in our 2012 LTIF project. As part of engaged dissemination, the 2012 project team will form a virtual learning community to support academics who may be interested in exploring the use of virtual simulated learning.


In terms of student learning, the adoption of the virtual simulated learning has resulted in the following reported outcomes:

  • increased understanding of the content covered;
  • further enhancement of student history taking and patient interviewing skills;
  • assisted students in developing greater empathy for patients;
  • assisted students in their transition from university learning to clinical placement; and
  • improved interdisciplinary understanding amongst students of participating disciplines.

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