Bow Valley College Leverages Virtual Reality to Better Prepare Students

As the use of new technology grows in the field of medicine, Bow Valley College – a member of Cybera – has launched a new Virtual Reality (VR) Lab which will be used by the Practical Nursing program. In partnership with ICOM Productions, a Calgary-based tech company, the lab simulates real-world patient assessment. In the VR lab, students are paired with patient avatars. Using tools like a virtual stethoscope, they are able to listen to the “patient's” breathing and observe the abnormal respiratory symptoms. Bow Valley College believes the VR lab gives its students an edge, by helping them understand how to identify and assess specific symptoms they may not see until they reach a clinic environment. Even then, their time in the clinic does not guarantee that the student will experience a variety of patient illnesses.

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“We are able to make patient scenarios in VR that we do not see in our college lab environment,” says Nora MacLachlan, Dean of Health and Community Studies, and VR Lead for Bow Valley College. “For example, when students practice with one another, they are getting a colleague [generally in their 20’s] with normal lung [function], so they don’t actually get to hear abnormal sounds or visualize abnormal breathing until they get into the clinical environment.”

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The VR lab has 11 new workstations, and an instructor station that will help the instructors work with their students while they perform their assessment. In her travels, Dean MacLachlan says she has yet to see another college that offers a VR lab with multiple stations and capability within various programs.

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“We are one of the largest practical nursing program in Canada, and [it] has always been one of the greatest assets for Bow Valley College,” she says

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However, the real benefit of the program was discovered when they piloted VR last year for the student assessments. “Learners indicated that they learned a lot about the abnormal signs and symptoms [through VR] than in their routine assessment,” said Dean MacLachlan. “They were also able to complete their assessments very timely.”

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This isn’t the first time VR has been used at Bow Valley College. It has also been used in the Creative Technologies program, which prepares students for interior design, and at campus events such as “The Creative Playground”. Students and instructors can also experience VR – in some cases for the first time – through headsets available in their success center. Bow Valley College also operates the “eBow Valley” VR development room, where teaching staff can learn to operate VR in a supported way, and apply it to their own classrooms.

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To learn more about the Practical Nursing program at Bow Valley, visit this site.