Using an Multiuser Virtual Environment to Enhance the Student Experience and Support Skill Development

Author Information
Michelle Aebersold PhD, RN
Dana Tschannen PhD, RN
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
University of Michigan School of Nursing
Effective Practice Abstract/Summary
Abstract/Summary of Effective Practice: 

Using on-line technologies can enhance the student experience and improve learner outcomes if utilized within a framework that supports learning from a theoretical or evidence based practice. The use of virtual environments in which the learners are represented by a 3D avatar have unique advantages over other forms of on-line learning in certain situations. This effective learning practice highlights the use of Second Life ™, a multi-user virtual environment in various courses at the University of Michigan School of Nursing. It exemplifies the versatility and effectiveness of Second Life on learner outcomes and satisfaction.

Description of the Effective Practice
Description of the Effective Practice: 

Using a grant funded by the Center for Research on Learning and Technology an eight-bed virtual hospital unit was built in the hospital building on the University of Michigan owned Island in Second Life. The unit was designed to mimic the practice area for nursing staff and therefore would be useful in working with nursing students and nurses. The Island called Wolverine Island has several buildings that can be used and mimics several areas on campus such as the health sciences library and a central auditorium. The following are three examples of how the virtual hospital has been used for nursing students and nurses.
In the first example the Second Life virtual hospital was used as the setting to engage senior level nursing students using avatars in several virtual simulations focusing on non-technical skills such as communication, teamwork, delegation and conflict management. These are essentials skills for nurses to delivery safe and effective care to patients.
The Second Life virtual hospital was also used to interact with a designated small group of senior level nursing students in place of weekly face to face meetings. The face to face meetings were part of the regular course work in which students meet weekly to discuss their leadership clinical rotation. The Second Life group would meet in-world to conduct their discussions and then had the added advantage of participating in impromptu simulation to practice leadership skills they found challenging or wanted more practice on.
Finally the Second Life virtual hospital was used to conduct virtual simulations for practicing nurses and assistive personnel at a Midwestern medical center to improve the teamwork skills of those learners and evaluate the satisfaction of learners with this type of simulation.

Supporting Information for this Effective Practice
Evidence of Effectiveness: 

In the first example with nursing students focusing on developing non-technical skills, effectiveness was measured by a comparative research design in which half of the nursing students experienced the simulation and the other have received the usual coursework. The students who received the virtual simulations scored significantly higher (p<.02) in a mannequin based simulation designed to measure their overall skills in managing a very ill patient.
In the second example with nursing students using Second Life (SL) in place of face to face meetings, the learning experience was measured by using a modified version of the Community of Inquiry framework (Arbaugh et al., 2008). %). Fourteen senior level nursing students participated in the on-line meetings. Students reported being comfortable disagreeing with other participants (90%) in SL discussion and felt their point of view was acknowledged during SL discussions (90%). Overall, student believed the SL experience reinforced course objectives (80%), with 78% reporting SL to be an effective learning experience.

How does this practice relate to pillars?: 

This practice addresses the pillar of effectiveness as seen by the measurement of the learning outcomes. Simulation has been shown in many studies to be an effective method of learning and in this practice the use of virtual simulations, a less used practice, was evaluated.
This practice also addresses the pillar of student satisfaction. Nursing students were satisfied with their experience using Second Life and commented on how they were willing to take more risks and try out new skills when they were an Avatar because it provided anonymity for them.

Equipment necessary to implement Effective Practice: 

This practice does require access to a multi-user virtual environment such as Second Life.

Estimate the probable costs associated with this practice: 

The cost associated with this practice would included purchasing access to virtual environment or development of space in Second Life.

References, supporting documents: 

Tschannen, D., Aebersold, M., Sauter, C. & Funnell, M.M. (in press). Improving nurses’ perceptions of competency in diabetes self-management education through the use of simulation and problem-based learning. The Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing.

Tschannen, D., Aebersold, M., McLaughlin, E., Bowen, J., & Fairchild, J. (2012) Use of virtual simulations for improving knowledge transfer among baccalaureate nursing students. Journal of Nursing Education and Practice, 2(3), 15-24. doi: 10.5430/jnep.v2n3p15.
Aebersold, M., Tschannen, D., & Bathish, M. (2012) Innovative simulation strategies in education, Nursing Research and Practice. Volume 2012 (2012), Article ID 765212, 7 pages
Aebersold, M., Tschannen, D., Stephens, M., Anderson, P., Lei, X. (2011) Second life: a new strategy in educating nursing students. Clinical Simulation in Nursing. Advance online publication 3 September 2011 doi: 10.1016/j.ecns.2011.05.002
Arbaugh et al., (2008). Developing a community of inquiry instrument: Testing a measure of the Community
of Inquiry framework using a multi-institutional sample. Internet and Higher Education, 11, 133-136

Contact(s) for this Effective Practice
Effective Practice Contact: 
MIchelle Aebersold
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Effective Practice Contact 2: 
Dana Tschannen
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