The SLENZ Update – No 120, July 29, 2009


Research: VWs may help put you at ease

when dealing with your own health

mammogramUniversity of Toronto researchers put their avatar through
the paces of a virtual mammogram. Picture itbusiness.

Health researchers believe that the Web 2.0 world may be able to teach them something that the medical industry has never been able to master — the ability to make people feel comfortable and at ease when dealing with their own health, according to  the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

“If you have to get a mammogram and you can walk through the process before it happens, it may help you get more informed and ask more reasonable questions of your healthcare practitioner,” Dr Jennifer Keelan, with the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, told, when discussing a University of Toronto study of healthcare activities in Second Life.  “I’ve never been taught to do a breast self-exam before. I found it interesting as a woman to go through that exercise, and I think the detail was sufficient for a person to try in real life.

Authored by student Leslie Beard and supervised by Keelan, the study published in a recent Journal of Medical Internet Research, examined 68 virtual sites where health was being taught or supported and concluded that even if healthcare is conducted in a virtual world, it may have real world applications.

Of those 68 sites, 34 were taking part in health education or awareness raising activities just like The Women’s Health Center at the Ann Myers Medical Center, referred to by Keelan in discussing the mammogram, which although a virtual healthcare facility,has nurses and physicians  who are real. They work here to reach out beyond the physical boundaries of the hospital and work past the innate discomfort of demonstrating good technique for self-examination mammograms.

“For many (medical) users, Second Life activities are a part of their Web 2.0 communication strategy,” the study said. ” The most common type of health-related site in our sample  were those whose principle aim was patient education or to increase awareness about health issues. The second most common type of site were support sites, followed by training sites, and marketing sites. Finally, a few sites were purpose-built to conduct research in SL or to recruit participants for real-life research.”

“Studies show that behaviors from virtual worlds can translate to the real world,” the study concluded. “Our survey suggests that users are engaged in a range of health-related activities in Second Life which are potentially impacting real-life behaviors.”

Discover Magazine asks:

Can Training in Second Life Teach

Doctors to Save Real Lives?

Auckland University’s associate director of information technology Scott Diener (pictured right) gets a notable mention in Discover magazine’s  report on virtual reality medical training programs which it says may bring big changes to the way health-care professionals learn their craft.

The article, among other things, looks at Diener’s  virtual Auckland University Medical Centre, and specifically at  a postpartum-hemorrhage simulation which has been operating since January for nursing students.DienerScott

Quoting Diener, Discover notes that so far, around 20 students have used the simulation on Auckland University’s  Second Life island of Long White Cloud, with overwhelmingly positive results.

“After they’ve ended the scenario, the faculty sits down and talks about their decisions,” Diener said. “From a learning perspective, it’s the post-scenario debriefing that does more for the students than anything else.”


The SLENZ Update – No 117, July 23, 2009


Universities must adapt roles for

students changed by Web 2.0



Some rapprochement will be necessary between  Web 2.0 – the social web – system and the current  “hierarchical, substantially introvert, guarded, careful, precise and measured” tertiary system if higher education is to continue to provide a learning experience that is recognised as stimulating, challenging and relevant.

This is a conclusion reached by the recently published (May 12, 2009) wide-ranging British Report of an independent Committee of Inquiry into the impact on higher education of students’ widespread use of Web 2.0 technologies.  The committee was chaired by Professor Sir David Melville (pictured) former Vice Chancellor of the University of Kent and the current chair of LLUK (Lifelong Learning UK) Council and of the JISC-funded Committee of Inquiry into the Changing Learner Experience.

Noting that  Web 2.0 has had a profound effect on behaviours, particularly those of today’s young people, “Higher Education in a Web 2.0 world” (PDF here) says in contrast  to the current university norms the  social web has  led  young people to a strong sense of communities of interest linked in their own web spaces, and to a disposition to share and participate. It has also led them to impatience – a preference for quick answers – and to a casual approach to evaluating information and attributing it and also to copyright and legal constraints.

“The two worlds are currently co-existing, with present-day students effectively occupying a position on the cusp of change,” the report said. “They aren’t demanding different approaches; rather they are making such adaptations as are necessary for the time it takes to gain their qualifications.

“Effectively, they are managing a disjuncture, and the situation is feeding the natural inertia of any established system.David Melville

“It is, however, unlikely to be sustainable in the long term,” the report said. “The next generation is unlikely to be so accommodating and some rapprochement will be necessary if higher education is

to continue to provide a learning experience that is recognised as stimulating, challenging and relevant.

“The impetus for change will come from students themselves as the behaviours and approaches, apparent now, become more deeply embedded in subsequent cohorts of entrants and the most positive of them – the experimentation, networking and collaboration, for example – are encouraged and reinforced through a school system seeking, in a reformed curriculum, to place greater emphasis on such dispositions.”

It would  also come, the report said,  from policy imperatives in relation to skills development, specifically development of employability skills. These would be backed by employer demands and include a range of ‘soft skills’ such as networking, teamwork, collaboration and self-direction, which were among those fostered by students’ engagement with Social Web technologies.

Higher education with a key role in helping students refine, extend and articulate the diverse range of skills they had developed through their experience of Web 2.0 technologies had to adapt to and capitalise on the evolving and intensifying behaviours that were being shaped by the experience of the newest technologies by  “building on and steering the positive aspects of those behaviours such as experimentation, collaboration and teamwork, while addressing the negatives such as a casual and insufficiently critical attitude to information.”

I’m  indebted to SLED lister, Dr Bob Hallawell,  of Academic Lead Learning Disabilities,School of Nursing, Midwifery and Physiotherapy, at the University of Nottingham,  for the heads-up on this interesting report. Education Guardian comment here and UK Web Focus report here.