The University of Saskatchewan (U of S) is known for its innovative technology, including use of virtual reality (VR) to educate students in the College of Medicine. But the flashy, fun tech isn’t just for show, according to a recent study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
“It was a really quick study period, only about eight minutes, and yet they were showing improvements in their accuracy by 20 per cent,” PhD student Chelsea Ekstrand explained.
Ekstrand works and studies in the cognitive neuroimaging lab at the university. The virtual reality brain module was created using MRI data from her own brain.
U of S second year medical student, Gabilan Sivapatham, was one of 66 in the randomized controlled study.
“A week later it seemed like I was able to go back into my mind and bring back the experience,” he said. “During the exam I was able to think back to the neuroscience module.”
The U of S study, the first of its kind in Canada, shows that immersive and interactive virtual reality learning increases motivation and retention, when compared to traditional textbooks. It also decreases neurophobia – a student’s reluctance to learn and relearn complex topics like the brain.
“What’s special about the brain is that it’s a 3D structure and intricate areas have specific relationships with each other. It’s difficult to grasp,” said Dr. Ivar Mendez, head of the surgery department at the U of S.
“It’s making learners more prepared to navigate the complexities of the human brain in clinical practice,” he added, referring to the VR brain module.
The VR was built by local tech firm Sprockety and has developed significantly in the year since the project began.
“This scientific study is really important because it adds legitimacy and credibility to VR as a teaching tool,” said Bruce Cory, co-founder and CEO of Sprockety.
“As a company we’re hoping we can build VR software to be used across disciplines and enhance the learning experience of students around the globe,” Cory added.
The applications for VR in education and in various industries is endless. But especially useful for surgeons, like Mendez, who hopes one day they’ll be able to plan out complex procedures from patient’s MRIs in real-time.
“Virtual reality technology is in its infancy and its applications for facilitating medical education in clinical practice in the future are exciting,” Mendez added.