Using Immersive Reality to Enhance Experiential Learning: The Unforgettable Experience

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Immersive reality has the power to bring hypothetical learning experiences to life in the classroom.

Using Immersive Reality to Enhance Experiential Learning: The Unforgettable Experience
Credit: SAQUIZETA / Shutterstock © 2018

This is one of a pair of blogs about the application of immersive and virtual reality at CSU Channel Islands. Read the other blog in this series.

Immersive reality has the power to bring hypothetical learning scenarios to life, making important but previously difficult to replicate interactions real for students. (Immersive reality is an umbrella term that includes augmented, virtual, and mixed reality.) Imagine a novice educator being able to engage in a difficult and confrontational conversation with a parent prior to ever stepping foot in a classroom. Or a student nurse navigating a conversation with a patient's family as they make decisions about end-of-life care for a loved one. These are experiences that guide our students on the path from novice to expert, a path that is difficult to traverse until they are faced with real-life experiences. In the cases of teaching and nursing, practicing these skills on the job could have meaningful consequences.

We currently use two innovative approaches at CSU Channel Islands that have a significant impact on student learning. By lowering individuals' apprehension and uncertainty about entering field-based learning experiences, the first approach allows students to take virtual tours that prepare them to enter a professional environment. Nursing students experienced a virtual tour of a hospital this past spring. This allowed them to explore three different units in the hospital environment prior to beginning clinical practice experiences. Through the virtual tour students are able to explore the layout of the rooms and learn about many of the aspects of the hospital equipment. This experience provided students with time to explore and gain familiarity with the facility prior to practicing in the hospital setting, which allowed them to focus on patients rather than preparation. We hope to explore this same approach with preservice teaching in the coming year.

Our second approach pairs mixed reality with simulation facilitation and teaching. Following a model established by CSU Northridge Simulation Services, which uses Mursion technologies, the CSU Channel Islands approach uses lifelike online avatars and facilitators that work with students to navigate simulations specific to course goals. In this model, students either directly interact with the avatar by taking a place in the "hot seat" or serve as members of the "brain." At any time during the session, the student in the hot seat has the option to pause the interaction with the avatar and turn to the brain to consult with peers. Once confident in the direction to go, the student in the hot seat prompts the simulation to resume. The opportunity to collaborate with classmates and instructors provides a safe space for students to draw on the expertise of others and receive feedback. Throughout the session, students rotate the role of the hot seat, with facilitation and guidance to support role changes and stimulate discussion.

The student experience was powerful and meaningful, with all of the participating nursing students reporting that this experience was valuable in preparing them for their future roles as nurses. 

"It was such a raw experience, which I loved. It felt so real and really made me think about an important conversation such as this one. I would not have known how to handle it in the actual clinical setting had we not done this." —CSUCI Nursing Student

"This activity, without a doubt, has changed my perspective on therapeutic communication and how to deal with a challenging conversation in the medical field. Coming out of the activity, I want to focus more on explaining things simply and leaving all of the medical jargon out, listening to the patient's family needs and allowing them to express themselves, and initiating these conversations if the family has not done so for whatever reason, as it is very important." —CSUCI Nursing Student

Similarly, teaching-credential candidates overwhelmingly reported that participating in this experience was realistic, useful, and immediately applicable in clinical practice.

"The most valuable lesson I learned from George [the online avatar] was how to calm down an upset person, whether it be a coworker, parent, or student. I think George was a valuable activity because of how real it felt, and it made me realize how unprepared I would've been if I did not have something to practice with." —CSUCI Special Education Teaching Credential Candidate

"I do feel that I will be a better collaborator now since I know more of where my special education colleagues are coming from." —CSUCI General Education Teaching Credential Candidate

Through the integration of innovative technology and approaches to teaching and learning, students are clearly transformed as they develop skills they can apply to the real world and, more importantly, to real people. Moments that were previously unteachable are now presented, practiced, and reflected on during coursework. With effective facilitation and guidance throughout the simulation, students are making the connection from theory to practice and voicing the multifaceted depth of implications this experience had on their learning. At CSU Channel Islands, we plan to continue to explore the potential of immersive reality with the goal of improving student learning and narrowing the novice-to-expert gap. We are certain this technology can pave the way to this goal and have a significant impact on student readiness for the workplace.

Talya Drescher is Assistant Professor of Education at California State University Channel Islands.

Jaime Hannans is Associate Professor of Nursing at California State University Channel Islands.

Jill Leafstedt is Executive Director of Teaching and Learning Innovations at California State University Channel Islands.

© 2018 Talya Drescher, Jaime Hannans, and Jill Leafstedt. The text of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 International License.