Saturday, February 23, 2008

Stanford Metaverse U: SUMMIT virtual medicine with real impact

I participated in the Stanford Metaverse U conference organized by the excellent Henrik Bennetsen of the Stanford Humanities Lab. Interoperability, platform standards, and open-source servers were all part of the heated conversation during the Metaverse Roadmap meeting that preceded the conference and the conference itself.

The fight right now is for platform dominance. The field is wide open for entertainment platforms. WoW is reaching a plateau in user numbers (still a whoppingly large subscription base of 10 million). Second Life with it’s 7 million some visitors, residents, or however you want to call them is perceived by many to be among the walking wounded. Imagine a very large moose with gunshots to back thighs, but still making its way through the VWs forest. Many of the first-gen users are disgruntled––more details on that later––but there is nowhere to go that provides the same affordances of UGC. Don’t count the Lindens out yet. They are trolling for the multi-million VC round.

My favorite talk at the conference was doctors Parvati Dev and Wm. LeRoy Heinrichs, who represent the
SUMMIT research laboratory for learning technologies at Stanford. They showed simulations of VW training of medical students, the modes of evaluation of this computer-simulated interactive training, and the perspective, particularly from Dr. Dev, that these tools enable long-distance teaching and aid in poorer nations’ knowledge acquisition. She believes so deeply in the importance of the distribution of know-how and in developing the tools to manifest the knowledge that she is leaving her directorship at the Stanford lab to work in emerging nations. Hard not to respond passionately to IT used in smart ways to help people learn critical information.

Here is some of the ways the Stanford team is working. They have promotional video and research papers available.

––The photographic and video images are made available on Internet for educational purposes. The open sourcing of material is already in effect.

––Collaborative nature of the research. The Stanford labs collaborate with several universities including ones in Wisconsin, Michigan, Sweden, Australia, and India. Department of Defense (Homeland Security), National Institute of Health, foundations around the world and dean of Stanford medical school are funders of the program. The
iAnatomy pilot is the first project with shared images and teaching tools.

––HAVnet surgical simulator and surgical simulation training are part of the investigation. This includes high-resolution images and real-time interaction. They are telemedicine to a new level. Live surgery over the Internet. “High resolution stereoscopic images phases link Stanford, Michigan, multiple cities.

––Patient education and empowerment. For examples, the Advanced Immunization Program (
AIM) vaccination program

––Triage drills for bio-warfare and other kinds of massive-scale attacks.

–– Cross-disciplinary evaluation framework of media-rich/simulation teaching and training

––The experience of life and death for medical students, even if it is simulated

The examination and diagnosis of the virtual patient is often done with real players playing the sick person, not AI. Watching it is frightening, like a SIMs session gone terribly wrong. The verbal exchange between emergency medics talking to each other over headset puts one’s heart racing. The simulation tips into the adrenaline of role-playing. It feels very real. Dev says, “Simulation-based training allows students to work in a safe environment. They can make mistakes, they can do things they could never do with real patients.” She stresses that the students experience the direct impact of life-or-death decisions.

The Stanford SUMMIT project has tested over 4,000 students with these new training methods. The results show in interview and looking at examinations that the students learn as well if not better using the simulations. These are some very serious games toward the learning environments of the future.

Links to conference live-blogging archive below

conference notes
VWN live blogging