York collaborates on development of virtual educational tool for nursing students

concept of digital technology

Educators play a vital role in developing and implementing effective teaching strategies to facilitate student’s critical thinking. A group of professors from York University, Ontario Tech University, Nipissing University, Durham College, along with a PhD computer science student from Ontario Tech (Andrei Torres) and York University undergraduate nursing research assistants, are developing a Virtual Simulation Game (VSG) to enhance student performance.

Celina Da Silva
Celina Da Silva

The VSG development received funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Insight Development Grant titled “Person-Centered Serious Games for Mental Health Education.” Celina Da Silva, assistant professor in York’s School of Nursing, Faculty of Health, is leading this mixed-method research to understand more deeply the lived experiences of persons living with mental illness to inform its design.

York University faculty collaborating in various phases of the project include Professors Bill Kapralos, Eva Peisachovich, Charles Anyinam, Sue Coffey and Leslie Graham from nursing and computer science.

VSGs enhance student performance through cognitive rehearsal and engage them through a system of rules, rewards and consequences to accomplish specific tasks and to meet learning outcomes.

Amid the pandemic crisis, VSGs can be used to complement online and hybrid learning and provide students with the opportunity to experience real-life virtual scenarios between nurses, allied healthcare workers and patients in the healthcare setting through a computer screen.

Bilal Qureshi, a research assistant from the team, said “the usability of VSGs provides an active and constructive educational environment based on challenges presented throughout the game facilitating not only understanding, but promoting a deeper application of knowledge over memorization and recall.”

A screenshot from the VSG prototype

A critical aspect of the VSG design is to depict how to care for persons in a culturally sensitive way, and bear in mind emancipatory contexts of gender, race and privilege. This design addresses the lack of VSGs representing the diversity of patients and social conditions encountered in healthcare. It will also allow educators to modify and create new VSGs that are evidence-informed, and help students apply theory to practice, i.e., conducting a mental health assessment. The storyline for the VSG was informed from the themes generated from the interviews of persons living with mental health disabilities.

In addition to an enriched learning experience, VSGs also provide students with scheduling flexibility, giving them the opportunity to interact and practice skills on their own time.

“With the use of VSGs, nursing students have the advantage of performing nursing interventions without the fear of harming the patient or themselves if a mistake occurs,” said Nelson Rodriguez, a nursing research assistant working on the project. “Instead, they can learn from the mistake and avoid it when practicing the same intervention in clinical nursing practice in the future.”

Nursing student Oyewunmi Oyelowo refers to her experience as transformative while working on the development of this VSG project. “The way we are looking at the design of the virtual simulations will empower and aid many healthcare professionals and students to come,” she said.

The VSG design incorporates the Healthcare Simulations Code of Ethics by the Society for Simulation in Healthcare in its design.

The team collaborated through Zoom and Google Meet to facilitate the project’s Phase One deliverables during the pandemic, and now that the prototype is complete, the team will move on to Phase Two to conduct usability testing and a randomized controlled trial to assess effectiveness in learning outcomes.

The team plans to post the VSG on the Sims Beyond Walls website soon; for more details email celinads@yorku.ca.