University of Newcastle builds VR experiences to save babies’ lives

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Virtual reality will be used to teach midwifery students how to resuscitate babies at birth.

The University of Newcastle says it has developed virtual reality and augmented reality programs covering anatomy and birthing techniques.

“The technological advance, securing UON (University of Newcastle) as a leader in the field, is likely to have significant impact on the future of education around the world, as well as substantial benefits for industry,” the university says in a news release.

The University’s School of Nursing and Midwifery and Innovation Team have collaborated to produce the first VR project. It simulates a real-world delivery room, providing midwifery students with a virtual emergency neonatal resuscitation scheme, the university says

“With 15 per cent of births in Australia and New Zealand requiring some form of resuscitation — a number even higher in premature babies — it is imperative our students feel comfortable and confident applying their experience in a time-critical, emergency environment,” says Jessica Williams, Lecturer in Midwifery and co-project leader.

“New graduates may find transitioning from performing a neonatal resuscitation in an educational setting to a real-world emergency room an overwhelming shift, which is exactly why we designed the program to bridge that gap.”

Eighteen Samsung Gear VR headsets are being made available to 2nd year midwifery students and the benefits of VR will be compared to the experience of students who don’t use the technology.

The University’s Innovation Team is also developing an augmented reality resource for helping students learn anatomy and physiology. A hologram displays interactive layers of different working functions of the body. It uses a Microsoft HoloLens headset.

“The benefit of an educator being able to utilise VR and AR to teach these complex areas of study is that there is a clear working depiction of the subject right before their eyes, which can be projected and shared with a classroom,” says Innovation Manager Craig Williams.

“Our aim with this technology is to fuse the separate parts of learning that students gain in theory, labs and work placement into a virtual simulation that lets them experience the pressure of what really is a life or death situation in the safe, repeatable environment of VR.”

He plans to use augmented reality to illustrate the impact of a baby’s position in a mother before childbirth.

Deputy Program Convenor of Midwifery Donovan Jones says he is confident the VR and AR breakthroughs will translate into real-world solutions.

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