BUFFALO, NY – Grab both joysticks while wearing these special glasses and step into the newest installment in the School of Social Work’s virtual reality (VR) world – the Simulated Mental Health Clinic.
Be careful not to hit the doors and maneuver through the waiting room to face the receptionist.
“Welcome,” the receptionist said, seeming to speak to you, and only you. “Would you please fill out this form for us while you wait for your appointment? If you have any questions, let me know.
For the uninitiated, Louanne Bakk, associate clinical professor and director of the online Doctor of Social Work (DSW) program, explains why virtual reality for students is valuable.
“One of the reasons we do this is that we try to connect our students,” says Bakk. “It gives a fuller sense of presence. Students are together in an immersive and shared space. This is one of the main differences with Zoom. Another reason is that we want our DSW students to think about how virtual reality could benefit them in their agencies and working as advanced practitioners. »
Bringing students together beyond Zoom
New doctoral students in social work practice — scattered across the country and beyond — are taken to VR classrooms during orientation, where they can interact with each other, says program instructional designer Steven Sturman. VR from the School of Social Work.
“Because these are online students, it would be impossible to get them all together in one space to browse and see this,” Sturman says. “It would also disrupt people who work there or visit there. So it’s a great way for us to virtually show them what they might encounter in the real world.
And the virtual reality illusion allows what they call “deep learning” to happen.
“It’s more than just reading a book or watching a movie,” Sturman says. “That immersion makes it more memorable.”
The School of Social Work encourages students to explore other simulations, including those that focus on social justice or promote empathy. These include apps such as “Traveling While Black” which simulates the history of movement restrictions for black Americans, and “Notes on Blindness”, which simulates going blind.
Mickey Sperlich, an assistant professor in the School of Social Work, uses social justice-focused virtual reality apps to promote self-care, which she says is essential for students managing stress.
“Other students found the more active experiential applications fun, and even ‘adrenaline pumping’, and appreciated the opportunity to encounter situations that have been largely missed in our daily experiences, especially during the pandemic – such as traveling in different countries, ride a roller coaster or interact with animals.
“Experiencing these apps can help students imagine how they can be used in social work practice,” says Sperlich, “and that’s important as more and more people have access to virtual worlds.”
Pursue to Education Technology
The School of Social Work, a pioneer for years in the use of virtual space and technology, now finds itself at the forefront of virtual reality education.
According to Sturman, UB is the first school of social work in the nation to use an immersive virtual reality learning environment to teach students how trauma-informed care can be integrated where humane services are offered.
The school also used virtual reality programs in the community.
“I’m currently working with one of our DSW students to integrate virtual reality into programming for community-based and socially isolated seniors,” says Bakk. “Essentially, we’ve developed a program where seniors engage together in a variety of immersive experiences. This may include skydiving, swimming with dolphins or visiting a petting zoo.