SINGAPORE – Donning virtual reality headsets and hand-held controls, medical undergraduates in Singapore enter a simulated hospital environment to learn about patient care – digitally.
Even though the setting resembles a virtual game, the experience is designed to teach future doctors the procedures required for surgery, from anesthesia and safety protocols to patient management.
The coronavirus outbreak has forced educators in the city-state to get more creative and has advanced online learning.
Singapore has reported more than 57,500 cases of the Covid-19, and migrant workers make up nearly 95% of them. The spread of the infection outside migrant dormitories appears to be largely under control, but the country will face the same post-pandemic challenges that the rest of the world faces.
The virtual experience for the medical students is the latest education technique used by the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine at the National University of Singapore (NUS). Also known as Pass-It – or Patient Safety as Inter-Professional Training – it helps students understand how to treat patients safely where they would have otherwise accompanied a doctor to a patient’s bedside or the operation theater.
“Pass-It’s ‘gamified’ style lets multiple learners be immersed in situations where they are given the opportunity to participate in what would usually be a highly restricted environment,” said Associate Professor Alfred Kow, a surgeon and Assistant Dean of education at NUS Medicine, who is one of the educators spearheading this digital initiative.
“With the Covid-19 situation, students have also been removed from these settings of practical learning due to the risk of exposing them to aerosol-generating procedures.”
Digital learning is not new to Singapore schools, but the pandemic has made remote learning more important than it was before.
Even before the pandemic, medical students at the Nanyang Technology University were already taking their education digitally, with some scanning bar codes of diseased organs stored in jars, while others bent over human bodies preserved in plastic polymers at the dissection table. Others who prefer a more hands-on experience use 3D printers to reconstruct scans of an organ with color codes.
“In this part of the world, we may be the first ones to deliver a curriculum with plastinated specimens,” said Dr. Sreenivasulu Reddy Mogali, head of anatomy at the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine at NTU.
Singapore’s government is pushing universities and other schools to come up with better ways to prepare students for the more digitized jobs they’ll encounter in the future.
Another university, the Singapore Management University (SMU), is trying to make use of so-called e-learning and artificial intelligence.
“With AI and machine-learning, you can use data to make smarter recommendations to students in terms of what courses they should pick, or how they can leverage their strengths, or perhaps work on their weaknesses,” said Dr. Lieven Demeester, director for the Centre for Teaching Excellence at SMU. “The pandemic and the online teaching that came with it has generated renewed attention to the value that instructors bring.”
With funding from Singapore’s government, most universities are investing in artificial intelligence.
NTU is using AI to track the progress of students, and develop a platform that gives virtual lessons.
The school is looking at the impact of technology on society, AI and ethics. It is also working with IBM Watson, an artificial intelligence platform, to develop a virtual tutor to help with digital learning at its school of medicine.
“We are also using AI in other purposes for the general student population because the Watson AI engine can help us to track based on data about students’ assessments,” said Prof. Kam Chan Hin, deputy provost of education at NTU. “Who are the weak students, what are the topics they are weak in … we are then able to tailor some of the remedial type of modules for students who are weak in certain areas.”
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