A smartphone app using AR enables medical students to learn to deal with a range of cases in real situations without infringing professional ethics.

Augmented Reality Helping to Train Medical Students

Today few doubt the pedagogical virtues of Augmented Reality (AR) and now AR is being harnessed to help train medical students. It is certainly not easy to provide medical students with an opportunity to learn to treat patients with serious injuries in real-life situations. Moreover, medical ethics prevents them from directly examining victims of crime, as these patients have to be taken care of by qualified doctors. Now the PRLI MedAppLab, a German research group led by Dr Urs-Vito Albrecht that specialises in mobile devices and applications for the medical field, has developed what it has dubbed a Mobile Augmented Reality Blended Learning Environment (mARble®) application. The app enables students to practice with real-life situations on their smartphones; they are invited to visualise multimedia content and answer practical tests.

Putting students right into the context

The app works with technology that is similar to a standard Quick Response (QR) code. Students use their smartphones to take a photo of a patient who has been given a label, and they can then visualise his/her injuries on their phone screen. In this way they can examine the patient directly in the classroom. The app also incorporates interactive multimedia content in the form of texts and quizzes to test the knowledge the students have acquired while treating their virtual patient. “Our goal was to develop a tool which was easy to use and which can be adapted to the changing needs of students and their teachers,” explains the PRLI MedAppLab website.

Reinventing the approach to learning

The key advantage of Augmented Reality is that it makes the student experience more interactive. Dr Albrecht wanted to create an effective learning environment for students which at the same time did not infringe ethical considerations. He then carried out a study on a small sample of ten third-year students to test the effectiveness of the mARble app. A group of six students were provided with the app on an iPad while the others worked with the usual textbooks. After all the students had spent thirty minutes studying a medical case, Dr Albrecht checked on the factual knowledge they had acquired and also observed their emotional reactions and concluded that on both counts the students using the mobile app now had a better grasp of the case.

By Eliane HONG