A BOLD solution

Professor Susan Ryan wanted an assessment tool that would test her occupational therapy (OT) students’ ability to assess the homes of people with arthritis, dementia and spinal cord injuries. The problem was access. It’s a logistical challenge to send a troop of 30 students into someone’s home to measure it up, so she needed to fake it. That’s when Chris Barrett from the BOLD Lab got to build a house with his computer.

The BOLD (Blended and Online Learning Design) lab is a place where instructional designers breathe life into the ideas of academic staff who are teaching in the online arena. As part of the Centre for Teaching and Learning, the BOLD Lab is key for academics who want to extend the scope of their teaching parameters.

Prof Ryan initiated this project in October 2012 when, after a meeting with Chris and Melissa Crain, an occupational therapist from Hunter New England Health, the concept of a simulated house was suggested as a possible exam tool.

Chris Barrett used a variety of commercial-grade software to develop the house, including a 3D modelling application and an engine that is used in gaming. His design is based on actual plans of a government housing department three-bedroom home. The walk-through navigation includes 360degree visibility and the ability to measure internal dimensions. Door frames, rooms and steps are all set to scale, accurately simulating the exact situation a student would encounter if they were to assess a real house. The virtual house is used to assess a student’s ability to observe any hazards or modifications that might be required in the home, depending on the person’s disability.

The first batch of students to undergo the interactive exam, current third year OT students, sat the test in February this year. So far, the project has been hailed a great success. Students have been incredibly enthusiastic about using the virtual house, due to its use of gaming techniques and interactivity.

For Susan Ryan, seeing the practical application and increased level of student engagement has made the project extremely gratifying. And for Chris Barrett, the house is the first building in what is turning into a virtual village. He has already designed a virtual playground in association with OT and is working with Nutrition and Dietetics to create a virtual hospital ward, so students can practice assessing different patients with a variety of nutritional needs.

Chris’s cutting edge creations are proving widely adaptable and useful across a range of disciplines in the University. Building and Construction have expressed interest in using the house to help students as they work towards becoming building inspectors. The hospital ward could also be applicable to Nursing or Medicine and the playground may be a valuable tool for Education students. Applications for this kind of tool are limitless.

“Essentially, it’s just a house” says Chris. “The beauty lies in the fact that once it’s built, it can be used for a number of different purposes, depending on the needs of the staff and their students.”

Increasingly, students will be using virtual worlds and online assessments as part of their studies, which means more projects for the designers in the BOLD team. Chris doesn’t seem too concerned. He grins. “It’s actually been a lot of fun.”

Click here to take a tour of the OTSUNVILLE house.

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