Evaluating the Use Of A Virtual Reality Patient Simulator an An Educational Tool In An Audiological Setting
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Audiology
There is currently an international shortage of Audiologists (McIntyre, 2010). Audiology is a professional degree undertaken at a postgraduate level at most universities around the world. Students have training in anatomy and physiology, hearing aids, cochlear implants, electrophysiology and acoustics; combined with a clinical component to the course. The clinical component is undertaken throughout the entirety of the course and involves a mixture of observation and supervised clinical practice in a variety of settings. Clinical training often begins with students crowded around a single piece of equipment, such as an audiometer for testing puretone-hearing thresholds or by pairing up and simulating a hearing loss. This process creates time and access constraints for students as it restricts their ability to practice performing audiometry, particularly if there is a shortage of equipment, and also limits their exposure to a wide variety of hearing loss pathologies. The potential for universities worldwide to use Virtual Reality and Computer Based Simulations to provide Audiology students with basic clinical skills without relying on extensive support from external clinics warrants further investigation. In particular, it needs to be determined whether Audiology students value these simulations as a useful supplement to their clinical training, and whether the use of these simulations translates into measurable improvements in student abilities in real clinical placements. A computer based training program for Audiology students developed at the Human Interface Technology Lab (HITLAB) New Zealand is evaluated in this study as an educational tool at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. The present study aims to determine if a sample of twelve first year Audiology students felt their interactions with Virtual Patients improved their ability to interact with clients and perform masking which is often part of a basic audiometric assessment for a patient with hearing loss. The study measures the students’ competency in performing masking in puretone audiometry on the Virtual Patient and then on a patient in a real-world setting to see whether the Audiology Simulator training tool improved the student’s basic audiometry skills (a training effect) and whether these skills were maintained after a period of four weeks (a maintenance effect). Statistical analysis is applied to determine any training and maintenance effects. Students also gave subjective feedback on the usefulness of the simulator and suggestions for ways in which it could be improved. Results indicated that there was no statistically significant training effect between students that had used the Audiology Simulator and those that hadn’t. Once all students had used the Virtual Patient there was an overall maintenance effect present in that student’s scores stayed the same or improved even for those students who had not used the Virtual Patient for a period of time. Students overall reported that they found the Virtual Patient to be ‘Moderately Useful’ and had many recommendations for ways in which it could be improved to further assist their learning.The present study indicates that computer based simulation programs like the Virtual Patient are able to present and simulate realistic hearing losses to an acceptable level of complexity for students studying in the field of audiology and that the Audiology Simulator can be a useful and complementary training tool for components of audiological clinical competence, such as puretone audiometry and masking.