Learning and Teaching Investment Fund 2012

Summary of projects

Project title

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

Project leaders

Associate Professor Jenny Sim

Project team

  • Dr Jennifer James
  • Dr Marcus McDonald
  • Dr Tony Zhang
  • Ms Suzi Mansu
  • Associate Professor Jennifer Martin
  • Mr Brett Gordon
  • Dr Charlotte Sale
  • Mr Joe Bird
  • Tracii Ryan

Project summary

The 2012 LTIF study continued to build on and consolidate our 2011 LTIF project of three-dimensional (3D) simulated learning. The study aimed to further validate the 2011 findings on the effectiveness of a 3D simulated environment as a learning strategy and assessment tool. Our study expanded from three programs in 2011, (Medical Imaging, Midwifery and Chiropractic) to include Exercise Science, Radiation therapy (School of Medical Sciences), Chinese medicine (School of Health Sciences) and Social work (School of Global Studies, Social Science and Planning) in 2012. The study also involved participation from our clinical partners from Andrew Love Cancer Centre (Geelong) and Austin Health.

Specifically, the 2012 study aimed to:

  • extend the use of a 3D simulated environment as a learning platform for health care students to develop effective communication skills with patients as part of student pre-clinical preparation;
  • promote interdisciplinary learning and understanding amongst students from multiple disciplines;
  • promote work integrated learning and industry partnerships in education and research; and
  • assist staff in adopting innovative educational practice through professional development.

Case based scenarios were used to contextualise student learning. Using Second Life platform, students role-played the interactions that occurred between the healthcare practitioners and patients. Reflection was incorporated as part of their learning activities to encourage students to reflect on their communication and interactions with patients. To promote interdisciplinary learning and understanding, students were required to meet with peers from other disciplines at the virtual clinic. Issues discussed included the dynamics of healthcare teams, professional roles and responsibilities in the context of interdisciplinary healthcare. As part of interdisciplinary learning, students were given the option to observe and reflect role plays from other disciplines.

Findings from this study supported the 2011 LTIF conclusions that Second Life was an effective learning strategy in not only improving student communication and history taking skills but also in assisting them in identifying and connecting with patients. As per our 2011 study, the opportunity to assume the role of a patient enabled students to develop empathy for patients, an important attribute for healthcare practitioners and social workers. As a consequence of their role play activities in Second Life, students reported increased confidence and being better prepared for clinical practice due to their better understanding of patient’s perspectives.

In terms of interdisciplinary learning and understanding, students valued the opportunity to learn more about other disciplines with many indicating that the interactions changed their pre-conceived notions of other professions. This better understanding had resulted in an increased confidence in their referral of patients plus a greater appreciation of the need to work together for the benefit of patients. While many still preferred face-to-face dialogues, students readily acknowledged that virtual meetings in Second Life provided the flexibility for interdisciplinary dialogues which are not possible in real life due to time table clashes.

This Second Life project has also resulted in increased engagement with industry partners. Both Austin Health and Andrew Love Cancer Centre (Geelong) are working alongside with the RMIT Academic Team in our 2012 LTIF project. Based on the 2011 and 2012 LTIF projects, the Project Leader was successful in securing a 2012-2013 Health Workforce Australia (HWA) simulated funding to implement Second Life across Victoria oncology centres.


Key project learning outcomes

A total of seven programs participated in the 2012 project. In addition to the three programs from 2011, Medical Imaging, Chiropractic and Midwifery, students from Exercise Science, Chinese Medicine, Radiation Therapy and Social work also participated in this study.

Our 2012 LTIF project reinforced the findings of the 2011 study: adopting Second Life as part of student learning activities resulted in the following learning outcomes:

  • improved communication skills in terms 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 learning and understanding.

Key project impact

In this project, Second Life was successfully embedded across seven programs as part of student pre-clinical preparation. Our study confirms that Second Life can serve as an effective learning strategy in improving clinical communication skills, interdisciplinary understanding and assisting students in developing empathy for patients.

The successes of the 2011 and 2012 projects formed the foundation for another study, funded by HWA, which aims to promote simulated learning across all major oncology centres in Victoria. The Discipline is now actively engaging Victoria radiation oncology centres in simulated learning, thereby strengthening the link between RMIT and industry partners in education research.

Scholarly dissemination

2012 LTIF project engaged dissemination

Sim, J., McDonald, M., James, J., Maude, P., Ryan, T., Scutter, S. and Wood, D (2012). “Embedding 3D simulation environment into curriculum.” in 2012 RMIT Learning & Reaching Expo,Melbourne, Victoria, August 29.

Sim, J., James, J., McDonald, M. Maude, P., Ryan, T., Scutter, S. and Wood, D (2012). “Learning in Virtual World: Learning communication via Avatars.” in 2012 School of Medical Sciences Brown Bag Lunch Series, Melbourne, Victoria, May 16.

We presented our 2012 LTIF project in December, focusing on our experiences in the delivery of Second Life:

McDonald, M., Ryan, T., Sim, J., James, J., Maude, P., Scutter, S. and Wood, D (2012). “Multidisciplinary role play in a 3D virtual learning environment: Experiences with a large cohort of healthcare students.” in Ascilite 2012 Future Challenges, Sustainable futures. Wellington, New Zealand, November 25-28.

Download Full Report [PDF, 156 KB]