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Meet you on the beach? How virtual reality could improve students’ mental well-being

App being developed will enable meetings with tutors to take place in relaxing settings

App being developed could enable meetings with tutors to take place in relaxing settings

Nursing students could meet tutors on a desert island or in an alpine meadow as part of a new virtual reality (VR) project to support their mental well-being.

Researchers at the University of Liverpool have been awarded £198,000 by higher education regulator the Office for Students to develop an app, which will enable healthcare students on clinical placements to attend virtual meetings in relaxing environments.

Virtual reality app will provide anonymity to discuss problems

App being developed could enable meetings with tutors to take place in relaxing settings

Nursing students could meet tutors on a idyllic settings as part of a new virtual reality project to support their mental well-being
Idyllic settings may help students to ‘open up to tutors a bit more’. Picture: iStock

Nursing students could meet tutors on a desert island or in an alpine meadow as part of a new virtual reality (VR) project to support their mental well-being.

Researchers at the University of Liverpool have been awarded £198,000 by higher education regulator the Office for Students to develop an app, which will enable healthcare students on clinical placements to attend virtual meetings in relaxing environments.

Virtual reality app will provide anonymity to discuss problems

The plan is to develop the VR healthcare software this autumn and test a pilot version of the app in 2022.

Participants would be represented on screen by avatars – computer-generated characters – which might make it easier to discuss problems. The app, which could be used on a tablet or VR headset, will also allow students to attend meditation and mindfulness sessions.

Project greenlit amid concerns for nursing students’ mental well-being

University of Liverpool senior radiotherapy lecturer Pete Bridge came up with the idea and said the technology was not intended to replace face-to-face meetings. One advantage to meeting in a virtual environment is that it provides a certain level of anonymity as well as a change of scene, he said.

Pete Bridge

‘Students may be stuck in nursing accommodation, for example in a small room, or might be struggling on clinical placement,’ he said.

‘We wanted to take them away from that. They might meet a tutor on a beach, see palm trees swaying or be by a crackling fire, and can also talk to their peers in that environment.’

COVID-19 pandemic has put additional pressures on students

The project comes amid concern about the well-being of nursing students whose education and training has been disrupted during the pandemic.

University of Liverpool professional lead for nursing Vicky Thornton said students had faced additional challenges, especially while on hospital placement during the pandemic.

‘Some of the second and third years have needed more support from us,’ she said. ‘The number of deaths in intensive care was hugely traumatic.’

App might help strengthen the student-tutor relationship

Ms Thornton said the university had provided support through Zoom meetings, podcasts and socially distanced walks in local parks, and hoped the VR technology would be a useful addition.

‘Being able to tap into that support through VR and meet academics virtually is half-way there. It might help nursing students relax and open up to tutors a bit more.’

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