Virtual Reality. Real Potential.

“Virtual Reality was made for education.” I have no idea who first said that – can I claim it? – but I am sure it has been uttered countless times since and I assure you that it will be said countless times in the future. From feeling as though virtual reality (VR) was nothing more than a sci-fi promise of things to come yet never quite delivered to the current situation in which VR feels as if it is undergoing a true renaissance.

VR AWE 2015
VR does need to be experienced to be truly believed. If you haven’t yet then do try it out.

With the arrival of devices, such as the Vive, Oculus Rift and Samsung GearVR, that are finally capable of delivering truly-immersive, high resolution and, most importantly, non-nausea-inducing experiences that captivate both young and old alike, VR has arrived and the exciting truth is that we are simply getting started!

There are already creative, innovative and fast-moving teams working on sating the appetite for immersive content, with gaming naturally leading the charge, and 360-degree video experiences also offering many their introduction to the world of VR. This, however, is not where VR ends and it continues to excite me to see the educational promise that this technology offers and that pioneers in the field are indeed delivering on. Unimersiv, one such team, refer to the idea that whilst 10% of knowledge that is read and 20% of that heard is retained two weeks later, a staggering 90% of what is experienced, or physically acted out, is recalled. If that is indeed the case then VR, with its power to immerse users in any environment that can be digitally rendered, offers a hugely powerful educational tool. The fact that the big players in the tech arena, such as Google, are now taking VR seriously speaks volumes for how impactful it is predicted to be, and that I believe it will be.

cat with virtual reality gogglesPotential medical, especially educational, applications abound, with veterinary no exception. Whilst my interests in the technology are NOT limited to veterinary, it is an area that I have direct experience of working in and so where perhaps I am most effectively able to postulate on the future applications of a technology that IS, I strongly believe,  going to shake things up for all of us. In terms of medical and science education, for example, work such as Labster’s simulated world-class laboratories, where students can learn cutting-edge science in a realistic environment and with access to digital versions of professional equipment. It may be digital and simulated but that does not diminish the educational power that such experiences delivers. I can see Labster’s technology inspiring a new generation of scientists to develop a fascination for the subject and ultimately help solve many of the world’s most pressing problems, such as the issue of antimicrobial resistance and the drive to develop new drugs.

So what about the potential uses for VR within veterinary? Well, perhaps some of the following….

  • Dissection – Anatomical training without the need for donor animals/ biological specimens. More efficient, with multiple ‘reuse’ of specimens in a digital environment, leading to revision of key concepts and better learning outcomes, translating into better trained, more confident practitioners.
  • Physiology – take immersive ‘journeys’ through biological systems, such as the circulatory system, learning about how these systems work, both in health and disease. Simulation of the effects of drugs, parasites, disease processes can be achieved, with significant learning outcomes compared to traditional learning modalities.
  • Pharmacology – model the effects of drugs on various biological systems and see these effects up close in an immersive, truly memorable manner, thus deeply enhancing the educational experience.
  • Surgical training – simulate surgical procedures thus enabling ‘walk-throughs’ of procedures in advance of actually physically starting. With advances in haptic technologies, tactile feedback can further augment the experience, providing rich, immersive, powerful learning environments. Surgeons, both qualified and training, could learn in a solo capacity or with team members in the digital environment – great for refreshing essential skills and scenario role-playing with essential team members. For example, emergency situation modelling to train team members to carry out their individual roles automatically, efficiently and effectively.
  • Client education – at home and in-clinic demonstrations of important healthcare messages, helping drive healthcare messages home and driving clinic sales, revenue and profitability, and leading to more favorable healthcare outcomes and client satisfaction.
  • Communications training – many of the issues faced in medical practice stem from breakdowns or difficulties in communication with clients or between colleagues. Communications training is now an integral part of both medical and veterinary training and should be extended to all members of a clinic’s team, from receptionists to nurses and veterinary surgeons. With the immersive power of VR and the ability to create truly empathetic experiences, it offers the perfect tool for communications training.
  • Pre Vet School education/ Careers counseling – think you know what it means to go into veterinary practice? Can’t arrange a farm placement but still believe you have what it takes to pursue a veterinary career? Imagine being able to experience a range of VR simulations that guide you through a host of realistic scenarios faced by veterinary professionals, enabling you to make informed career decisions based on ‘real’ experience. It has been demonstrated that those who experience high-quality VR feel genuine empathy for those situations into which they digitally stepped. The power of this for making informed choices about future plans and for challenging preconceived notions about what it means to be or do something is compelling.
  • Commercial demonstrations/ trade show experiences – custom-made VR experiences for showcasing new products and services to prospective customers, creating truly memorable and impactful campaigns. I for one look forward to VR becoming a mainstream component of company presentations at trade shows.

These are simply a snapshot of some of the potential applications for VR with most easily being applied in other, non-veterinary contexts. I look forward to continuing to grow my knowledge and expertise in this exciting area and welcome anyone who shares the same sense of wonder and optimism at the possibilities to get in touch.

Flatmate. Stalemate.

Anyone who has ever lived in a shared house will be all too familiar with the following scenario: the main bin – the one in the kitchen – gets filled, as one would expect it to in the normal course of modern life, and yet in spite of there being multiple adult humans, all in fully-functioning physical and mental order, living within said house you seem to be the ONLY one who ever believes in the notion of emptying the damned thing. Especially when the contents start breaking out of the physical confines of the limited capacity that a fixed volume space permits – ie. the pile of trash grows ever taller, with more effort being exercised in removing the lid, carefully balancing said detritus on TOP of the existing matter before ever-so-carefully replacing the cover, which now balances precariously inviting the next unwitting user to cause everything to spill out onto the floor.

trash & sink
The Growing Tower of Trash (& washing up)

If this is NOT a scene familiar to you then you are either still living at home with mum to clean up after you (much as many of my flatmates seem to believe they are) or you are fortunate enough to have never had to deal with the unique challenges of shared living. If so then I envy you! The rest of you will be nodding away in recognition and fully aware of the seething fury that even the most minor of shared-living transgressions can invoke. Because it is the little yet important aspects of shared living that can turn what should be an enjoyable, harmonious, rich experience into a daily series of “f$*k them all” moments!

I am fortunate enough to be able to say that we have a cleaner who does come in once per week and so the shared spaces do get to look semi-respectable for about fifteen minutes each week and for that I am grateful (although I do pay handsomely for it so I guess I needn’t be that grateful) as it means one major bone of contention commonly experienced by shared house occupants is avoided – the question of a ‘cleaning rota.’ Why it is that intelligent, hardworking, go-getting adults, successful and proactive in other areas of their lives, seem totally incapable of the small act of recognising a full bin, lifting said bin out of it’s receptacle and then – I believe this is the resistance point – walking the twenty meters it takes to get to the main bins outside dumbfounds me. It can’t be that it is too heavy – no-one, as far as I have experienced, has taken to disposing of lead weights in there yet – nor is it that the bins are too far away – most have to walk further to get to the kitchen from their rooms. All I can conclude then is that it is simply bone, utter idleness and the collective thought that “someone else will do it.” After all, eventually someone else usually does end up doing it, principally because they just reach their ‘filth tolerance breaking point’ and that someone is usually me.

What is the solution? I guess there are several options:

1. Move out & find somewhere else – whilst this might lead to the discovery of a group of people with similar attitudes to communal hygiene and decency the fundamental counter to this is “why the hell should I?!” I like the location of where I am and anyone who has moved before will appreciate how much of a ball-ache it is to up sticks.

note2. Write a note – as tempting as it often is to leave some creatively sarcastic note pinned to the bin we all know that it does little more than add to the trash pile whilst just ensuring that you become known grudgingly as the “note writer.”

3. Voice your disgruntlement to the next flatmate who happens to be in the room at the same time – I have done this a couple of times and all that generally happens is that said person rolls their eyes, tuts in agreement, says how annoying they also find it and laments in unison with you about how you’re both the only people to ever empty the bin, and then continues to do absolutely nothing to change. Empty rhetoric. That’s all it becomes.

4. Remove the bin and leave it in the kitchen for someone else to at least shift it the last stage to the actual bin – nope. It just ends up sitting there and instead of leaking that shitty bin juice into the enclosed space of the bin simply does so onto the floor. You know you’re going to be the one to shift it anyway!

5. Complain to the landlord – yeah! Like they really care.

6. Post a ‘bin log’ or some kind of rota/ record – document in plain sight who it is that actually a) buys bin bags, and b) empties the bloody thing. I am soooooo tempted to trial this but can just imagine the ensuing excuses: “I do empty it but just didn’t have a pen on me!” Doomed to fail I am sure but might be worth a go. Who knows, it may stoke up some friendly competition in an Andrew Carnegie-esque manner.

7. Give up and resign yourself to be the ‘binman’ – some might argue that it is better to just accept that you live with child-people and that no counter measure or training effort is going to change their behaviour, in which case just sucking it up and being the bigger, more mature adult is the key to a happier, stress-free life. True but like so much in life it then ends up boiling down to principles. And I can end up being like a dog with a bone when I get a principle between my teeth.

Can’t be arsed to buy bin bags? No worries. Who needs them anyway?!

With so many more people opting to rent rooms in shared houses, either on account of the flexibility and freedom it affords or the economic realities of housing just being too darned expensive to buy nowadays, living like a student is something that more of us get to experience for longer periods of our lives. It seems that regardless of age and professional stage, the same old issues that accompany a shared space are as common later in adult life as they are when young.

Anyway, have to go and empty the bin now…..