The gap between what we teach and what employers need is widening. This gap is not only in knowing how to use new technologies, but also in being effectively trained in problem solving, collaboration and the ability to adapt to change.
At the University of Sydney, our Faculty of Medicine and Health (FMH) has made great strides in educating our Health and Medical students. The recent A$10m (£5.7m) announcement for a ‘Futuristic Furnishings’ at the Westmead Innovation Center is just part of a broader push to bring our teaching and our students’ experiences into the 21st century – and the ability to perform of technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality (VR).
At the FMH Media Lab, we test new technologies to see if they can provide more effective learning experiences than current practice. The definition of the problem determines the choice of technology.
We’ve had success with a range of solutions – from complex VR simulations, to AI-driven interactions with conversational agents (which are dialogue systems that perform natural language processing and automatically respond with human language), to the requirement that students view exhibitions in a digital 3D museum need to curate . We make digital copies of real objects such as anatomy models and use real estate tour software to create guided tours of our simulation training labs to orient students, as well as create CGI, videos, podcasts and other multimedia content.
The FMH Media Lab was launched on the University of Sydney’s Westmead campus, nestled within Westmead Hospital in western Sydney, Australia. This has led to close collaboration with frontline clinical educators who provide in-service training.
Our approach has been to develop training environments that are as close to the real-world environment as possible, as learning complex skills such as dealing with medical emergencies is time-based and embodied. By developing VR simulations of an Advanced Life Support (ALS) scenario, we are able to curate learning experiences that are more indelible than the existing approach of studying the ALS manual. These tools are already being integrated into nursing and medical education at the Westmead Innovation Centre.
Training for the team leader in an advanced life support response
Photo: courtesy of the University of Sydney From educators’ teaching problems to prototypes
We like it when an educator comes to us with a problem. We often showcase the solutions we’ve developed so educators can get a feel for how to apply them to their situation. We start by getting to know the learning activities, the desired learning outcomes and the logistics: how many participants, how many hours. We encourage educators to try the technology: putting on a VR headset or taking a digital tour of a remote or inaccessible location to get a feel for the experiential nature of the activity.
If the scope of the learning situation warrants building a digital asset, we are happy to prototype and iteratively improve upon feedback from educators. Some solutions, like putting together a digital tour to serve as an orientation exercise or assessment, are easy to develop and may only take a few hours. Other solutions like an AI-driven chatbot or a VR app require more resources, so the context has to justify the effort.
We also like to co-create the experiences with undergraduate and graduate students whenever we can. If the new learning experience is successful, we work with students and educators to refine how best to integrate them into curriculum design and lesson plans.
Make technology transparent and accessible
We see our role in demystifying technology-enhanced learning experiences and empowering educators to create their own. We like to work within a research framework and are constantly trying to define exactly what measurable results we expect. We find that new technologies can provide scalable complex experiences that are difficult or impossible to routinely replicate for every student in the class, such as .
Code Black Training on De-escalating Violence in the Emergency Department
Photo: courtesy of the University of Sydney
With assignments such as curating a medical exhibit in a 3D digital museum, students actively engage in object-based learning pedagogy and must demonstrate a coherent “narrative” through time and space. Your assignments are viewable on a flat screen, but can also be experienced in VR, meaning students and their educators (and their parents and future employers) can walk around in their assignments. Acquiring practical skills in a new digital platform, a valuable skill in the workplace, occurs as a by-product of the job. We believe this task creates more indelible, more retrievable memories and we are exploring that.
How to collaborate with educators to develop technical solutions
We propose this approach:
Find out about new technologies. Buy some and make some things. Let your colleagues know you’re looking for use cases. Capture the opportunity: current practice, learning outcomes, scope. Create a prototype and test it with colleagues and students. Make and test iterative improvements. Don’t be afraid to try: it’s just technology.
The FMH Media Lab thus acts as a resource for educators, making new technology-enhanced learning experiences available in the classroom in a way that integrates with and supports current practice and provides more experiential learning experiences.
Martin Brown is Co-Director of the School of Medicine and Health Media Lab; Phil Poronnik is Director of Educational Innovation in the Educational Innovation Research Unit at the School of Medical Sciences; Claudio Corvalan-Diaz is a technical officer in the research area Educational Innovation at the School of Medical Science; and William Havellas is the Technical and Virtual Assets Officer in Educational Innovation Research at the School of Medical Science. All are at the University of Sydney.
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