University of Illinois Helps Develop Revolutionary Virtual Reality for Learning

The unique learning platform could change the way students learn about medicine.

by Leslie Renken, Peoria Journal Star / June 5, 2018 0
ENDUVO

(TNS) -- PEORIA — Education may be forever changed by a new virtual reality teaching platform created at Jump Simulation Center.

Enduvo is a revolutionary way to learn. Instead of sitting quietly through a lecture or trying to absorb complex information from a book, students step into a three-dimensional environment free from distractions. After loading Enduvo into a gaming computer and putting on a VR headset, they stand beside a virtual instructor with the power to rewind and pause. Students can explore a variety of informational media hanging in the air around them, and even enlarge a medium — like a three-dimensional beating heart — to the point where they can walk inside it.

"Enduvo fosters exploration and discovery, which is key to learning," said Dr. Matthew Bramlet, director of the Advanced Imaging and Modeling Program at Jump Simulation and leader of the team that created Enduvo. A huge strength of the software is its ability to bring three dimensions into the mostly 2D world of learning.

"We struggle to show complex 3D problems in so many 2D formats. In Enduvo, we just show it in 3D," Bramlet said.

Enduvo is the first commercial product to come out of ARCHES, an endowment which supports collaboration between engineers from the University of Illinois College of Engineering and health care providers at OSF HealthCare and University of Illinois College of Medicine Peoria. Already some important clients have shown interest in using Enduvo, including the National Institutes of Health, which is building a VR lab in Uganda where the software will be used to teach doctors working in rural areas, said Bramlet.

Enduvo is an offshoot from an earlier innovation by Bramlet's team — 3D printed hearts created with medical scans from actual patients. The tool allows doctors to better study the patient's anatomy before surgery.

"The 3D heart decreases the uncertainty around complex problems. It improves understanding and confidence in the surgeon," said Bramlet. "Before we started doing this, a typical surgeon statement was 'I'll figure it out when I get in there.'" About 15 percent of the time studying the patient's 3D printed heart leads to changes in the surgical plan, said Bramlet.

While physicians at OSF are still using the printed hearts on complicated cases, they have also begun using virtual reality to do the same job. When the patient's scans are dropped into VR, physicians are able to explore even further.

"In virtual reality they can blow the heart up as big as the room," said Bramlet. "They can see even more, and there's more flexibility."

Physicians using VR invariably become animated while explaining their surgical plan. Watching their gestures, Bramlet had an idea which led to the creation of Enduvo: What if we could record the expert talking about his case and use it to teach medical students?

Over the past year UICOMP has been studying how effective Enduvo is as a teaching tool.

"The goal is to see if VR is more than just a novelty," said Dr. David Dominguese, a research assistant professor of anatomy at UICOMP who is leading the research.

The results so far have been good. Both students and faculty say they enjoy using Enduvo. The next studies will determine how effective Enduvo is at teaching, said Dominguese.

"We want to see if VR improves your outcome," he said. "We will compare VR to other forms of teaching and learning, and assess the results."

There are about 200 lectures or demos created in VR and the library is growing, said Dominguese. Making a lecture in VR is fairly simple. There is no coding involved.

"You just drag and drop the files you would normally add into a PowerPoint presentation into this virtual room," said Bramlet. "Then you go into this room, move your stuff around and then you press record and teach by interacting with the models and the diagrams. When you're done, you stop recording and you've just built a VR lecture."

Lectures are often shorter in VR than on PowerPoint thanks to 3D technology. Instead of showing multiple images of the subject from different angles, 3D shows the subject from all angles at once. Some anatomy lectures prepared by UICOMP faculty members have been condensed from an hour to 15 minutes.

UICOMP students are already using the cutting edge technology. At the end of June a group of first-year medical students will participate in an Enduvo pilot program while learning liver anatomy with a VR lecture created by Dr. Sonia Orcutt, assistant professor of surgery at UICOMP. And there are plans to add more VR curriculum during the next school year, said Dominguese.

As part of their growing VR curriculum, UICOMP has built a VR lab with six stations. It is likely the biggest VR lab at any medical school in the country, said Dominguese.

Though UICOMP Regional Dean Dr. Sara Rusch is waiting for Dominguese to finish his study on Enduvo, she sees a lot of potential for the software.

"I do think it has the possibility of revolutionizing education," she said. "Enduvo has the potential to help people learn faster and retain better. And it's a lot more fun than reading a book or sitting in a lecture."

Another plus is Enduvo's portability.

"You could do distance learning," said Rusch. "You don't have to be physically present for a lecture. We could develop content here and ship it anywhere."

Equipped with a gaming computer and VR headset, doctors practicing in rural settings could study with experts from all over the world from the comfort of their own offices.

"Ideally, if this takes off, there will be libraries where you can check out content," said Rusch.

While it's too soon to say, Enduvo might also be a big financial win for developers. A CEO and public relations firm have been hired for the company being built to market the patented product, said Bramlet. For Rusch, the ultimate goal would be for research being done at Jump to provide a boost for the Peoria economy.

"Wouldn't it be wonderful if Enduvo was the first winner in that space?" she said. "I'm excited by the opportunity. It would be wonderful to see Peoria in the forefront of something that has the opportunity to revolutionize education."

©2018 the Journal Star (Peoria, Ill.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.