CQ University brings human body studies closer to home

Central Queensland University is using Smart Sparrow's adaptive e-learning platform to save distance education students the need to travel to campus to undertake laboratory learning.

Central Queensland University is giving its distance education students the ability to conduct practical laboratory studies of the human body through an online platform.

The university has adopted an adaptive e-learning platform, developed by Australian education technology start-up Smart Sparrow. It will allow students to undertake studies of the human body using online virtual patients, clinics, dissecting rooms, labs, and diagnostic tools through interactive and adaptive learning experiences powered by learning analytics.

According to CQUniversity, the platform will be deployed in a series of online learning modules in the course of human body systems. This course is taught to approximately 550 students each term — of which 70 percent are distance learners — enrolled in medical science, exercise science, paramedic science, chiropractic, and sonography and imaging.

Dean of School of Medical and Applied Sciences at CQ University, Fiona Coulson, said the university will take a phased approach in the rollout of the platform, but the benefits of it will be seen almost immediately.

"While it will be an investment, the platform will replace the laboratory classes, replacing, the technical staff we'd usually have to hire and demonstrators. Also, each class usually can only take 40 students at a time because of OH&S, so you can imagine 12 or more iteration can be certainly expensive. So we'll be saving money as we roll out," she said.

To make the virtual hands-on laboratory experiences accessible to all students, the School of Medical and Applied Sciences is replacing a number of its conventional 'wet labs' with new online, interactive environments, experiences, and tools.

Coulson said students that are exposed to a blended teaching approach — where students have access to interactive education experiences and have the ability to adapt their individual learning to their own knowledge and pace — have demonstrated improved outcomes.

"Students can pace themselves and they're not sitting in a group, instead they have to work through it themselves. If they're not at the same speed as everyone, they can come back to it," she said.

"The other thing is we can simulate some things that we wouldn't be able to do in a lab, such as learning about the reproductive system and changing hormone levels."

Coulson hopes to be able expand the use of the platform to residential skills, which means students will be able to use the online simulation to prepare before they attend class, which would eventually mean shorter classes but more effective learning experiences for students.