Pharmacy students learning in a virtual world



Pharmacy students at The University of Queensland (UQ) are learning how to manufacture, test and prescribe tablet medications in a three-dimension virtual world.

UQ\’s School of Pharmacy is one of 10 universities from around the world that has collaboratively developed an innovative pharmacy learning resource using online virtual reality platform ‘Second Life\’.

The group has created a virtual island called ‘Pharmatopia\’, which is divided into four zones, each with specific teaching and learning objectives including a manufacturing zone, clinical zone, community zone and industrial zone.

UQ Pharmacy lecturers, Ms Jacqueline Bond and Dr Sally Firth, who have been involved in the development of ‘Pharmatopia\’, introduced UQ\’s first-year pharmacy students to ‘Pharmatopia\’ for the first time this semester as part of a virtual laboratory class.

Ms Bond said the virtual reality resource allowed students to practice pharmaceutical calculations required for the compounding process.

“Calculations are presented as prescriptions from virtual patients, phone enquiries or ‘chats\’ with virtual nurses, doctors and patients,” Ms Bond said.

“Students select the required ingredients from an extensive selection of drugs and raw materials and measure out the correct amount or provide other dosage related data as prompted.

“It\’s a much more fun way to learn calculations than the way we were traditionally taught and it\’s been a very exciting project to develop.”

The ‘Pharmatopia\’ project brings together expertise from each of the university collaborators in a shared practice model, in which each university builds a teaching module on the virtual world, and then shares it with the rest of the ‘Pharmatopia\’ community.

UQ\’s contribution to ‘Pharmatopia\’ is a virtual compounding dispensary located in the manufacturing zone.

Lecturer at the School of Pharmacy, Dr Sally Firth, said she saw great potential in the virtual reality resource assisting her students in their studies.

“The virtual environment provides real-time feedback on a student\’s progress, and allows students to practice an exercise many times without consuming actual resources, occupying laboratory space or needing the guidance of a tutor,” Dr Firth said.

“The online platform also allows for communication between students within the virtual environment, providing an opportunity to work together to solve problems.

“The project is currently in its Beta phase, and will continue to expand as new practice environments are added, but it seems that the sky is the limit for this revolutionary new learning model.”

Fourth year honours student Ms Helender Singh is conducting an evaluation of Pharmatopia as part of her Honours project.

“One of the real strengths of the UQ Pharmatopia compounding laboratory is that students can work in whatever location they choose,” Ms Singh said.

“Whether this is in the classroom, library or home, students can complete as many exercises as they want in a safe, anonymous and non-judgemental environment.”