University of Newcastle Port Macquarie students to trial Road to Birth virtual reality technology

Groundbreaking technology: Midwifery lecturer Shanna Fealy shows the Road to Birth application to third year Bachelor of Midwifery students Arlene Lavilla, Erica Bell, Felicity Lavers, Maddie Hoysted, Alyssa Hay, Annette Stace, Kylie Ashton, Ebony Jennings, April Collins and Courtney Haydon.
Groundbreaking technology: Midwifery lecturer Shanna Fealy shows the Road to Birth application to third year Bachelor of Midwifery students Arlene Lavilla, Erica Bell, Felicity Lavers, Maddie Hoysted, Alyssa Hay, Annette Stace, Kylie Ashton, Ebony Jennings, April Collins and Courtney Haydon.

Virtual reality technology will give Port Macquarie midwifery students an insight into the internal stages of pregnancy.

The groundbreaking development in virtual reality technology, called Road to Birth, will be on trial in early 2018 for University of Newcastle’s midwifery students in Port Macquarie and Newcastle.

The technology provides a world-first visual insight into the internal stages of childbearing and its impact on the body.

Road to Birth, through the use of a digital headset, takes users on a journey through pregnancy with a life-size female figure in front of them whose gestation can be explored and observed.

Midwifery lecturer Shanna Fealy said the visual benefits were immediate.

Students can follow a detailed, realistic and 3D figure through a pregnancy without any visual barriers.

Students can follow a detailed, realistic and 3D figure through a pregnancy without any visual barriers.

“We are able to immerse the students in that visual space straight away,” she said.

Ms Fealy said Road to Birth was an accompaniment to traditional learning methods.

She said it was hoped to run some research trials, particularly for first year students, using Road to Birth as a teaching tool.

The technology incorporates a pregnancy timeline, key anatomy and circulatory systems and expert commentary from experienced midwives at each stage of pregnancy.

Users can employ the program to investigate the internal changes as the baby develops.

The educator can use a VR headset and project the imagery in front of the class as they walk through a simulation. 

Students can then either immerse themselves fully with the VR headset or take the application home on their device to learn at their own pace.

A collaboration between the University of Newcastle’s School of Nursing and Midwifery and IT Innovation Team, key features include crucial birth considerations like the baby’s orientation and placental positioning.

Project lead and lecturer in midwifery Donovan Jones said the new program was vital to significantly transform the future of midwifery education.

“First year midwifery students come into the program and within the first semester are going out and witnessing their first birth,” he said.

“They’re exposed to situations that have the potential to be confronting.

Third year midwifery student Tayhlor Thomas wears a headset as part of the Road to Birth virtual reality technology experience.

Third year midwifery student Tayhlor Thomas wears a headset as part of the Road to Birth virtual reality technology experience.

“Not only will this application introduce them to the realism of anatomy, but it bridges the gap between classroom and delivery suite to ensure cognitive resilience, which is going to make them perform better under pressure.”

The application has potential to help expectant parents visualise the changes that occur during pregnancy.

Mr Jones is hopeful Road to Birth, supported by CSIRO’s On Prime acceleration program, which helps research teams validate their work and discover real-world applications, will eventually aid a multitude of health professionals as well as the wider community.

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