Harnessing Virtual Reality & AI to Prepare MSW Students for Clinical Practice
A VR template in development will improve upon current simulation-based learning experiences, such as the one shown above.
(NEW YORK) — Social work educators are increasingly using simulation-based learning experiences to train tomorrow’s practitioners, as research shows the benefits and opportunities provided through simulation. However, schools of social work typically have done this by adapting templates used by other professions, such as nursing. Now, researchers at NYU Silver have received pilot funding to develop and test an AI-powered, virtual reality simulation template that is designed specifically to enable students to gain and apply social work skills.
Thanks to a grant from the Constance and Martin Silver Center on Data Science and Social Equity, Clinical Associate Professor Nicholas Lanzieri and Clinical Associate Professor and Assistant Dean of Practicum Education & Community Partnerships Anne Dempsey are partnering with colleagues from NYU Tandon School of Engineering and NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development to develop the VR simulation template. Once the template and the test scenario have been developed, the simulation will be pilot tested in a randomized controlled experiment with 30 MSW students, who will be surveyed before and after to determine its effectiveness as a teaching tool, as well as students’ satisfaction with the experience.
“This customized simulation template will mark a key advancement in our ability to prepare our students clinically and contextually for the situations they will encounter in their practicum setting,” says Dr. Lanzieri, who previously partnered with NYU Silver’s Associate Director of Educational Technology Henry Samelson to develop simulations using pre-packaged VR technologies. For the latest study, he says, “We’re fortunate to be working with Tandon and Steinhardt colleagues who have been rooted in the field of simulation technology. Pairing our content knowledge with their technological expertise, we’ll be able to create a framework for immersive simulation scenarios that center social work learning objectives, competencies, and values.” Moreover, he says, the developers’ use of sophisticated AI will increase the authenticity of both the characters in the simulations and the feedback students receive.
“The development of simulation-based learning experiences that are specifically tailored for our profession is an important step forward for social work education,” says NYU Silver School of Social Work Dean Michael A. Lindsey. “Furthermore, the power of cross-disciplinary collaboration at NYU will be on full display as Silver researchers work with colleagues at Tandon and Steinhardt to develop this VR simulation template.”
Research shows that immersive VR simulations enhance students’ feelings of empathy and understanding of human emotions, helping them achieve competence in holistic practice. Dr. Dempsey notes that VR simulations also increase educational equity. They enable every student in a class to engage in the same scenarios, learn the same skills, and receive the same type of direct feedback, which is not the case in their disparate practicum placements.
The simulations also allow students to develop skills with a broader range of clients and in a wider range of settings than in physical placements. Unlike training at practicum sites or even simulated case scenarios using live actors as standardized clients, VR simulations are also accessible at home, enabling students to engage in them as often as they like to hone their skills. Since some students may experience mild dizziness or nausea if they are wearing VR goggles, the template is being designed to function effectively on a desktop.
The study is further distinguished by the fact that the template will be tested with a simulation scenario based on NYU Silver faculty research. “We will be demonstrating for students how research can flow into practice – how outcomes and interventions can be operationalized into practice skills – and how practice can, in turn, inform research,” Dr. Lanzieri says.
Drs. Lanzieri and Dempsey’s collaborators on the project include Samelson, Jan Plass, Professor and Paulette Goddard Chair in Digital Media and Learning Sciences at NYU Steinhardt; and Julian Togelius, Associate Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, Shivani Dhir, Assistant Dean of Digital Learning; and Jeff Brenneman, Senior Instructional Designer at NYU Tandon.