‘I felt as if I was there’ - Can Virtual Reality (VR) Enhance Students’ Learning Experience of Immunology Teaching?

McIntyre, K. , Stapleton, G. , Sherry, L. , Donald, C. , Milling, S. , Nibbs, R. , Douce, G. , Latkovskis, I. and McDonnell, N. (2023) ‘I felt as if I was there’ - Can Virtual Reality (VR) Enhance Students’ Learning Experience of Immunology Teaching? 16th Annual University of Glasgow Learning and Teaching Conference, 29 Mar 2023. (Unpublished)

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Immunology, the study of the body’s immune system, is a challenging topic for undergraduate students who often find it difficult to conceptualise and recall. Immunology teaching in the undergraduate medicine (MBChB) course has traditionally been delivered via didactic lectures and problem-based learning. Virtual Reality (VR) technology is posited to offer an immersive environment that encourages active participation with the subject matter. At the University of Glasgow, investment into VR technology was driven by a 2017 VR Teaching Ideas competition, to which a ‘Battling Infection’ simulation was pitched. Development of the bespoke simulation was completed as part of Project Mobius, an Innovate UK-funded project, in collaboration with industry partner Sublime Digital (now Project Edify, https://www.edify.ac/). Development costs for ‘Battling Infection’ are estimated at £40k. The aim of this study is to investigate how VR can be used to support student engagement with challenging subjects, like immunology, and therefore support learning and greater understanding in that subject. We implemented the custom ‘Battling Infection’ simulation using VR technology with head-mounted displays and hand controls for 330 medical students in academic year 2022-23. Students enter the VR simulation in the human intestine, whereupon they discover an infection caused by the bacterium Salmonella. Their task is to select the appropriate immune response to effectively eliminate the infection, visiting different parts of the body (lymph nodes, bloodstream) as they do so. Prior to attending the VR simulation, students completed an online pre-lab activity, hosted on Lt online physiology software (https://www.adinstruments.com/lt). The pre-lab activity contained short questions and information about general concepts related to Salmonella infection. After the in-person VR task, students were invited to complete a voluntary subjective learning experience exit survey. A high proportion of medical students took part in the survey (233, 71% of cohort). For most medical students (131/233, 56%), it was their first experience of VR. Feedback described the experience as ‘immersive’ and ‘realistic’: “I felt like I was actually in the body and could explore and see what was happening”. For students, the interactivity “put [the] learning in context”, echoing findings of previous studies (e.g. Fabris et al, 2019). Furthermore, students self-reported that the VR simulation enhanced their understanding of the immune response (198/223, 89% agreed or strongly agreed). Negative comments related to the location (at the University’s VR lab in Partick Burgh Hall) and the short length of the experience (~15-20 minutes per student). The next phase of the study will explore the experiences of undergraduate life sciences (BSc) students (n= 265), who will complete the same VR simulation and be offered the opportunity to complete the survey in March 2023. We aim to explore students’ perceptions of the VR simulation from the two cohorts and examine differences or similarities between each. Thus far, the study raises some intriguing questions regarding the value of curriculum-enhancing experiences such as VR simulation. Undergraduate medical students placed high worth on the chance to experience and actively participate during the VR simulation. Whether this leads to better retention of knowledge remains to be explored.

Item Type:Conference or Workshop Item
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:McDonnell, Professor Neil and Stapleton, Dr Genevieve and McIntyre, Dr Kirsty and Nibbs, Professor Rob and Milling, Professor Simon and Latkovskis, Dr Imants and Douce, Dr Gillian and Sherry, Dr Leighann and Donald, Dr Claire
Authors: McIntyre, K., Stapleton, G., Sherry, L., Donald, C., Milling, S., Nibbs, R., Douce, G., Latkovskis, I., and McDonnell, N.
Subjects:Q Science > QR Microbiology > QR180 Immunology
College/School:College of Arts & Humanities > School of Humanities > Philosophy
College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > School of Infection & Immunity
College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > School of Medicine, Dentistry & Nursing
University Services > IT Services > Computing Service
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