Digital Technologies Easing the Learning Curve in the Transition to Practicum
This study aims to explore the value of utilizing non-immersive virtual reality (VR) to create virtual learning environments (VLEs) to support and prepare optometry students in their transition into preclinical and clinical teaching spaces.
Digital education is widely integrated into university curricula with the use of online simulators, immersive VR, and other digital technologies to support student learning. This study focuses on non-immersive VR as an accessible and low-friction means of accessing VLEs to reduce students’ learning burden.
Current optometry students were invited to explore 360° 3D panoramic virtual learning environments of preclinical and clinical teaching spaces. Students were recruited to participate in an online Qualtrics survey and individual semi-structured interviews. Quantitative data was analyzed, and thematic analysis was conducted on qualitative data from students’ responses to identify key takeaways on the accessibility and impact of VLEs on students’ learning.
Non-immersive VR has utility in alleviating student stress and helping transition students into practicum. The VLEs have the means to supplement the curriculum to provide support to students entering the preclinical and clinical teaching spaces.
Students engaged voluntarily with the novel VLEs and utilized the resources to help familiarize themselves with the preclinical and clinical teaching spaces. The open-access resource supported students in their preparation for practical learning and helped to reduce self-reported stress and build confidence prior to entering practical classes. Many of the students enjoyed the experience of navigating through the spaces, which helped to appease their curiosity and reduce the learning curve associated with entering new spaces. The VLEs did not replace attending practical spaces but rather were supportive learning resources that aided students due to limited face-to-face contact hours. For students with existing familiarity with the spaces, through their in-person attendance in pre-clinical and clinical teaching sessions prior to accessing the VLEs, the digital resources were not as beneficial compared to students who were still transitioning into practicum.
Introductory digital resources like non-immersive VR are accessible platforms that help to orient and familiarize students with new environments. VLEs can potentially help to relieve student stress and reduce the learning load associated with entering practicum or new learning spaces.
More work needs to be done on how student preparation can translate to feeling less stressed and more confident in relation to transitioning from traditional learning environments to practical learning spaces.
A broader application of non-immersive VR can be implemented as an introductory learning preparation tool across different disciplines to alleviate student stress and maximize the limited time in practicum to allow focus on learning outcomes and practical skills.
Future studies should consider different cohorts to study, with a focus on objective measures of engagement with VLEs. The effect of VLEs on students’ cognitive load should be assessed and assessment of self-perceived stress can be evaluated with instruments such as Cohen’s Perceived Stress Scale.