Good medicine

Maggi Savin-Baden, an expert in web-based virtual learning, is turning her attention to medical students' training.

January 24, 2008

A second life requires a second name, and Maggi Savin-Baden's is Second Wind.

The alter ego of the professor of higher education research is an avatar - or character - in the web-based virtual world Second Life, and she is an expert in the academic potential of the phenomenon.

Universities are already moving online with virtual campuses, libraries and student unions, and now Professor Savin-Baden, of Coventry University, has won £200,000 to give medical training the virtual treatment.

The money, awarded by the Joint Information Systems Committee, is for a project to create virtual patients, an idea being developed with St George's Medical School in London.

Professor Savin-Baden said that although the project would address a specific need for medical schools it also had wider implications for the way e-learning and other teaching methods co-exist.

She said: "One of the biggest problems facing medical education is getting realistic situations for students to learn in. There are increasing limits on where you can place students and what students are allowed to do, which is why we're designing virtual patients.

"For example, we may have a problem-based learning seminar in Coventry University's area on Second Life - a virtual island with trees and sand. When the students arrive, there might be a body lying on the ground, and they would have to respond to that and make decisions."

As well as providing a new teaching resource, the project will aim to address challenges posed to problem-based learning by the rise of self-directed and distance learning.

Professor Savin-Baden explained: "Because of the rise of distance-learning courses, people are tending not to look at the pedagogy of online learning. They are not looking at how we can make this work in a way that will really push students to think hard, instead of just engaging in quite straightforward linear discussions, which is what a lot of online learning can be. This is about putting the complexity back into e-learning."

Professor Savin-Baden accepts that not all academics will be won over by Second Life but insists that virtual learning should not be ignored.

She said: "A lot of people aren't convinced by Second Life, which is fair enough, but lots of people said that about e-mail at first. I think learning in a virtual world is here to stay; it may not be Second Life, but I think we'll use it increasingly."

john.gill@tsleducation.com.

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