TECH SA: UTSA using virtual reality to teach students studying medicine

Program to provide headsets pre-loaded with STEM content

SAN ANTONIO – UTSA is providing virtual reality tools to allow its students to conduct university-level science lab work without visiting a traditional science lab.

This fall, students will also see an operating room like never before.

"This will be our first semester using it in the classroom. We prototyped it with a few students, and it's been spectacular," Mark Appleford, associate professor of bio medical engineering at UTSA, said.

This partnership is between Labster, Google and Lenovo. The program will provide students with VR headsets that contain pre-loaded STEM content. 

Professor Appleford demonstrated how the programs works.

"What you are seeing here is a live procedure that they miced up and had the VR headsets on multiple surgeons and support team," Appleford said.

The UTSA Office of Information Technology is leading this effort. 

Appleford said there are several advantages to the program.

"We can increase the volume of the interaction we can see. I can take a bio medical engineering student and put them in a surgery with a kidney transplant, and five minutes, later they can have them see how its stent is deployed in radiology," Appleford said. "Second advantage is, it takes a long time to train a bio medical engineer to actually get them in that environment. It's a safety factor also for the patient. VR is (so) we can do that in a controlled environment and with them still see in observation."

"Biology is a tough course for students. So as we start to look at student success tools, we're always looking for the most innovative way to challenge our students," said Vanessa Kenon, assistant vice provost for information technology at UTSA. 

Later this fall, students will also experience the new DEx Lab. It will have 20 headsets, and the community will also be able to access the lab. 

UTSA established a similar lab called VizLab in 2011 that allows researchers from art, science and engineering to conduct simulation and visualization research to better understand what they are studying.

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