|A group of KU students celebrating after a presentation. Courtesy/ Kansas University Medical Center
Nursing students at Kansas University Medical Center (KUMC), Kansas City, KS, are learning in a very unique atmosphere - a virtual island in the online world called "Second Life."
It was a few years ago that Juliana Brixey, PhD, RN, assistant professor of nursing, heard about Second Life being utilized for education through simulation. Her interest was piqued, so she started investigating.
"I thought it had a lot of potential," she said. "It produces a whole new experience, because instead of students simply creating and exchanging a Word document, they are able to go through a more interactive virtual world."
The first nursing class that had Second Life up and running was a Topics and Informatics class. Now other classes are getting involved, with students typically doing work on KUMC's very own piece of real estate: the KUMC Isle.
The purchase of the island allowed the university to have enough virtual space for classrooms, exam rooms, exhibition halls for displaying student work and research findings, an auditorium for hosting speakers and presentations, and any number of additional special project facilities.
One special project was created out of a specific collaboration with the School of Nursing. The Jayhawk Community Living Center was designed for online students who are given an assignment to create a database for a fictional living center. The students are expected to design a database that includes the background information on residents and details of the center itself, such as nursing facilities, workstations and exam rooms.
"Second Life allows students to meet with myself and other faculty members and work with us in much the same way they would work with the end users of a product in the real world," Brixey said. "They build a product and work with us by discussing things like use requirements and prototyping, and they're able to get helpful feedback."
Through Second Life, students have the opportunity to simulate an exploration of the specific environment they're creating. The Island is password-protected so users have to get special permission to get on there (all KUMC students get lifetime admittance, whereas visitors might only get a timed stay).
Students begin by going online to create a user account and an avatar. They are then directed to explore a number of places in Second Life, included something that's health-related. To record where they've gone, students take screen shots and submit the pictures as part of their assignment.
"I'm very much about experiential learning, so our students go through an exploratory process at first and then write a reflection paper on how they experienced it," Brixey said. "Overall, the students have done very well using the program - one of the only repeated concerns we hear is a relatively small one: finding good hair."
Brixey said the papers she gets back are some of the most enjoyable ones to read. One student relayed how she found a location where you could actually go inside a cell, viewing the mitochondria and the nucleus, among the cell's other parts.
|Windy Howley aka Juliana Brixey PhD, MPH, RN Courtesy/ Kansas University Medical Center
"We also have students give poster presentations, much like going to a conference. They submit their poster to us; then our technology department posts those up in Second Life so students can visit them and write comments back about them," Brixey explained. "I even do office hours in Second Life on Wednesday evenings so students can stop by if they have any questions or concerns."
The classes are also able to do presentations in real time. The technology department posts their PowerPoint slides and the classes' avatars meet together with each user listening to the talk live in a voice chat. They're also able to take part in a 5-minute question-and-answer period afterward, just like they would at a physical presentation.
KUMC has a lot of distance-education students, so Second Life allows a greater connection to the school than ever before.
"Most students never come to in-face classroom activities, so this gives a platform, a presence, so students can get together with faculty, with each other and meet in a virtual world much like they would in the real world," Brixey said. "It's creating a sense of connection amongst the students."
Team projects have new meaning now that users can "see" the avatars they meet up with and at least talk with their project partners in voice chat, instead of simply communicating over e-mail. Another benefit is students get to keep in contact with their classmates, whereas in the past they might not have connected again after they finished their class together. Now, some students are able to meet again for coffee in Second Life. And it's getting good reviews from the student population.
"Overall, it's been well-received. Much better than I've expected, because when you do something like this you really don't know if it's going to be accepted," Brixey explained. "But the students have been really excited to interact with the other students and hear their talks through Second Life. There's also less anxiety about public speaking, because it's your avatar up there doing the presentation."
That lowered anxiety may be why after one class presentation, the students all joined each other on the stage to take a group picture and have some fun dancing to celebrate their accomplishments.
Sarah Lebo is a frequent contributor to ADVANCE.