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Dr Ben Horan’s job is to travel between worlds – the virtual ones he gets to build as Director of Deakin’s CADET Virtual Reality Lab, and the real one the rest of us live in.
It’s a complex role, but ask Dr Horan about it and he’ll happily explain the huge potential he sees for translating this frontier technology into any number of fields. ‘There is potential for competitive advantage in industries including gaming, marketing and entertainment. The possibilities are endless,’ he explains.
For Dr Horan, virtual reality (VR) is revolutionary because it offers new and creative solutions to the complex problems of the past and enables tremendous progress for the future.
It’s not always easy for midwifery students to access consistent hands-on experience in the delivery room – babies don’t come according to class schedules, and crowded hospital wards and the stress of labour can make for an uncertain training ground.
Associate Professor Helen Forbes, Associate Head of Deakin University’s School of Nursing and Midwifery, says that when your classroom is a hospital, where there are so many variables, every midwife in training can struggle with practical lessons. ‘It’s hard for students to get a consistent experience. It depends on the day of the week that they go to the hospital and the people they come in contact with,’ she explains.
In response to this, Professor Forbes worked with Dr Horan’s team to develop ‘Trinity’, a life-size model of a pregnant woman that’s a fusion of VR, nursing expertise and haptic technology. Wearing an Oculus Rift headset, students can experience a simulated delivery situation with Trinity. They are able to feel her stomach, measure the strength of the contractions of labour and deal with distractions including nervous expectant fathers.
Trinity gives students a true sense of what midwives need to feel for and manage during the birth process, helping them develop clinical decision-making skills. This new interdisciplinary approach to midwifery education means that for the first time students can have a consistent learning experience in a controlled simulation environment.
'There is potential for competitive advantage in industries including gaming, marketing and entertainment. The possibilities are endless.'
Dr Ben Horan,
School of Engineering, Deakin University
For Dr Horan, Trinity is the perfect tool to help shape enquiring minds. ‘What the VR midwifery simulator enables us to do is to train the next generation of midwives and medical professionals in a revolutionary way,’ he points out.
Not only are students able to hone their skills within the VR space, the interdisciplinary approach prevents students developing siloed mindsets, teaching them to draw from expertise both in and out of their industry. When knowledge is shared to create a new approach, students reap the rewards, in turn learning to think innovatively. ‘In fact we now have a fourth year class where students are required to propose new solutions to problems using VR and augmented reality,’ he adds.
A generation of new ideas developed through critical thinking is what excites Dr Horan the most. ‘From medicine to occupational health and safety and education, people will be learning in virtual worlds before applying knowledge on the job – going into their work with an edge, knowing they’ve been able to practice over and over in a pseudo workplace first,’ he concludes.
And this is just the beginning. Dr Horan believes opportunities to apply VR to learning are limited only by mindset and imagination.
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