Occupational Medicine Research Project

Over the last few months I have been having the internal debate about whether to complete my MA Education in Virtual Worlds with the dissertation or the extended project. The debate has concluded and, as many who know me would have guessed, the project won the day. While I have discovered a pleasure in immersing myself in the theoretical throughout the course of the MA, it is the transformation of that theory into the actual that is my passion.

Suitably timed, a research project long in the making has been finally signed off and, having had permission granted by the project director, this will be the subject for the extended project. The educational space will be constructed on an OpenSimulator sim hosted in Kitely and for much of its construction I hope to keep it as a public space, open to those interested in observing its development. The intent is also to use this blog as a form of running commentary throughout the project, again so those interested can follow its progress.

The extract below is from my assessment paper for the MA’s Artificial intelligence, bots and non player characters module, completed last semester. It is a good introduction to the scope of the project.

Extended Project Introduction
From: Artificial Agent Deployment in an Occupational Medicine Scenario

Occupational and Aviation Medicine (University of Otago) is a supplier of education in occupational medicine, aviation medicine and aeromedical retrieval and transport. Its students are comprised of doctors and associated health professionals from around the world, taught through a distance learning programme consisting of synchronous webinars, accompanied by course materials made available through a learning management system. Students physically attend at least one annual, week-long residential school, held at a different location across the world each year. This enables all students to participate in at least one of these schools at some stage over the course of their studies, without encountering unreasonable travel costs. The residential schools consist of face to face teaching, site visits relevant to the area of study and networking opportunities. It is interesting to note that, even though students are expected to attend only one of these schools during the course of their Diploma and Masters studies, they rate the value of them so highly that many continue to attend the schools even after graduating.

The use of virtual worlds for health and medicine education is well documented (Boulos, Heatherington and Wheeler, 2007, Christopoulou et al., 2013, Wiecha et al., 2010) and gives emphasis to the benefits of using virtual environments for simulated medical practice, resulting in the improved performance of trainees and reduced practitioner error. In the context of the Occupational and Aviation Medicine (OAM) unit however, virtual worlds are being investigated not only as situated learning environments (Peachy et al., 2010) but also as a means to provide aspects of social presence and co-presence (Bulu, 2011) to a student body that is highly dispersed geographically; that sense of being together that can provide a means to negate the isolation and loneliness often experienced by distance learners (Hassel et al., 2012). Though no concordant data is available I would venture that much of the value of the residential schools mentioned in the first paragraph relates to these aspects of being together, in the same space.

From a teaching perspective the research will investigate the use of virtual group activities as a means of developing aspects of presence and enhancing learning and to this end most of the learning activities revolve around group work, facilitated by accompanying teaching staff. Of equal import, the research will also investigate how the teaching space might be employed to promote students’ active participation in their own learning, through experiential, student-centred activities.

The project that will be developed to support the research falls under the umbrella of the occupational medicine section of the OAM unit. The development involves creating a virtual occupational environment in OpenSimulator, representative of a cement manufacturing plant in the United Arab Emirates. This will consist of a build able to display immersive spaces descriptive of the actual site, in the nature of disclosure points of the health hazards being taught, where students and teaching staff might discuss the industrial processes and assess the occupational risks associated with them. A clinical scenario will also be developed for a plant staff member, in the research proposal a 52 year old, male, heavy vehicle driver who, for the past 30 years, has been transporting rock from the quarry to the primary crusher. A health clinic room will be built in which the students, facilitated by teaching staff role-playing the driver (patient), will compile his occupational health history, interview and examine him, order the required medical tests and write a clinical assessment. In contrast to the distance practices used to date for such scenarios, students will be present to and active in the hazard identification and clinical assessment, engaging in investigating and decision making as a group, with immediate feedback from teaching staff.


Boulos, M., Hetherington, L. and Wheeler, S. (2007) Second Life: an overview of the potential of 3-D virtual worlds in medical and health education. Health Information and Libraries Journal [online]. 24, pp. 233–245. [Accessed 15 April 2014].

Bulu, S. (2012) Place presence, social presence, co-presence, and satisfaction in virtual worlds. Computers & Education [online], 58, pp. 154–161. [Accessed 15 April 2014].

Christopoulou, S., Dimopoulou, N., Kotsilieris, T. and Papoutsis, J. (2013) A review of 3D virtual worlds in medical and health education. E-Health and Bioengineering Conference (EHB) [online]. pp. 1-4. [Accessed 15 April 2014].

Hassell, M., Goyal, S., Limayem, M. and Boughzala, I. (2011) Effects of presence, copresence, and flow on learning outcomes in 3D learning spaces. Administrative Issues Journal: Education, Practice & Research [online]. 2 (1), pp. 62-73. [Accessed 15 April 2014].

Peachy. A., Gillen, J., Livingstone, D. and Smith-Robbins, S. (2010) Researching Learning in Virtual Worlds [online]. London: Springer. [Accessed 15 April 2014].

University of Otago (no date) Study Occupational and Aviation Medicine. Available from: http://www.otago.ac.nz/wellington/study/occupationalaviationmedicine/ [Accessed 15 April 2014].

Wiecha, J., Heyden, R., Sternthal, E. and Merialdi, M. (2010). Learning in a virtual world: Experience with using Second Life for medical education. Journal of Medical Internet Research [online]. 12 (1). [Accessed 15 April 2014].

Next in the Series: Initial Development

One thought on “Occupational Medicine Research Project

  1. Pingback: Occupational Medicine Research Project: Initial Development | F/Xual Education Services

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