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Emerging Nursing

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The most important consideration is clear to John Fillwalk, associate professor of art: it's ultimately about the care of the patients. The more time nursing faculty spend on organizing lessons and practicum for students, the less they have for addressing more important issues involving the sick and injured.

Whoa! Say again? Nursing? Professor of art?

That's correct. Fillwalk, director of the university's Institute for Digital Intermedia Arts (IDIA), has brought his emerging media expertise in Second Life to the aid of colleagues in Ball State's nationally ranked School of Nursing, who faced an ongoing challenge of developing and staging patient simulations for nurses in training. Recruiting and coordinating the dozens of volunteers necessary to make the sessions go was getting ever more difficult and time-consuming.

"So, we thought how could Second Life help in using pre-made health histories and having students, staff, and others play the part of patients in this virtual world," says Dan Lutz, director of Unified Technology Support and Fillwalk's campus collaborator on the project.

Advantages of the innovation include its universality—tutorials can be conducted from any computer with a high speed Internet connection. The creation of a virtual location also reduces the demand for real space needed to accommodate actual volunteers, who also save on travel time and costs (and even produce fewer exhaust emissions). The program recently had a person living in Florida playing one of the online avatar patients created by Fillwalk and IDIA students, based on health histories created by School of Nursing staff.

More than anything, though, Lutz believes exploiting emerging media to teach up to 65 student nurses in a given class section means conserving vital instructor and staff resources that previously were given over to organizing and coordinating a large volunteer pool.

"It means that faculty and students can have more real practice time together," says Lutz, "which everyone involved hopes produces better nurses and nursing care."

The Second Life simulation also complements another cutting-edge training technology for future nurses—SimMen who react to right (and wrong) medical decisions.