Brewster S. Virtual Reality Methods for Veterinary Clinical Skills Acquisition. Paper presented at: Alternatives in the Mainstream: Innovations in Life Science Education and Training. 2nd InterNICHE Conference; 2005 May 12-15; Oslo, Norway


New haptic, or touch, technologies allow people to be able to use their sense of touch when inte acting with computers. With certain restrictions, such devices can give a very realistic sense of feeling a solid object. Haptic devices have been used in a range of applications but have proved particularly beneficial in medical simulations, from learning suturing to practicing laparoscopic procedures. In many of these situations it is the subtle sense of touch that is used to perform the
skill and that is hard to learn using visual simulations. At Glasgow University a long running collaboration between Computing Science and Veterinary education has been investigating the teaching of palpation skills. Palpation is difficult to simulate as interaction with the patient is not mediated by a tool; the veterinarian's hands are on the patient directly.

We have focused on two areas of simulation for pregnancy diagnosis: ovarian palpation in the horse and cow. Palpation for pregnancy diagnosis is a common procedure but has problems as if it is done incorrectly animals can be misdiagnosed or injured. It is a difficult skill to teach as it is internal and teacher cannot see the student's hand. This also makes it hard to assess the skills that the student has learned.

During our work we have investigated how best to design virtual representations of the different structures involved, assessed performance with students and experts, looked at the development of skills over time and at how such tools should be integrated into the curriculum to be the most effective. We have also looked at tools to support teaching such as visualisations to help teachers see how students performed examinations (or for a student to see what a good examination might look like).