A virtual toothache helps student dentists

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Masha is a dental patient. Her oral health problems continue to change as she meets new Case Western Reserve University student dentists in Second Life’s virtual dental office.

The middle-aged avatar is an integral part of a new research project of the Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine and the College of Arts and Sciences department of communication sciences to teach and give students practice time to communicate with mock patients.

Not only do findings from the study have potential to revolutionize dental education but also to change the way national testing is done for patient-side communication skills.

Kristin Z. Victoroff from the dental medicine’s department of community dentistry will direct the three-year Innovative Dental Assessment Research and Development (IDEA) Grant project from the American Dental Association’s Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations. She will develop patient communication scenarios for simulated education and test their effectiveness in preclinical training for students.

“More dental schools are experimenting with simulation as a way to teach,” said Victoroff. She is joined in the research project by Roma Jasinevicius and Catherine Demko from the dental school faculty in testing and implementing simulations in dental education at the university.

Since 2001, the Case Western Reserve dental school has been on the forefront in using simulations in teaching the physical dexterity skills by using a technology called DentSim (http://www.denx.com/). DentSim is a simulated and computerized training system that uses a simulated dental patient. The school’s use of the technology in dental education was spearheaded by Jasinevicius.

From that technology, the attention turned to developing what Victoroff’s describes simulated experiences for the “softer” skills of dental medicine—communicating with patients.

Victoroff enlisted virtual reality experts and Art and Sciences’ communication disorder scientists Stacy Williams, who directs the Virtual Immersion Center for Simulation Research (VICSR), and Kyra Rothenberg, director of the health communications minor.

They will take three approaches to simulated communications training—live actors, the immersion theatre where students interact with a virtual patient in a 180-degree surround theatre and with avatars, like Masha, in Second Life.

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