The Empathy Simulator – Communication Training in a Virtual Learning Environment
Industry and Community Partners
- Engaging multiple disciplines
- Scalable and sustainable
- Co-designed with industry or community
- Geographically dispersed
The key enablers of the Empathy Simulator include:
- Funding and professional support.
- A combination of a functional team with combined expertise and input from multiple perspectives and stakeholders created an inclusive approach and design.
- Experience, persistence, passion, and flexibility of individuals driving the projects.
For more information
The Empathy Simulator is a computer-based program featuring an avatar character named ‘Jim’. Jim is an elderly Australian gentleman with mild dementia. Students from Curtin University studying Speech Pathology and Occupational Therapy participate in The Empathy Simulator as part of a credit-bearing learning experience.
Students attend a scheduled session where they are given biographical information about Jim (the avatar). Students need to engage Jim in conversation, identify problems he is having and manage responses throughout the exchange. Jim can be challenging, demanding, aggressive, distressed, or charming. Students respond accordingly, practising and reflecting on appropriate communication in demanding and unpredictable professional situations.
Clinical educators observe students during the virtual learning experience (VLE) and select Jim’s responses based on the desired learning outcomes for each student. The Curtin Communication Interaction Scale (CCIS) was developed as an instrument to measure communication, empathy, knowledge and confidence of students. Students receive both verbal feedback from the clinical educator and feedback via the CCIS following their first exchange with the avatar. The students reflect on their performance and revisit the avatar, addressing the feedback and identified areas for improvement. The CCIS is repeated following the students’ second attempt, identifying improved performance and highlighting areas for further development. This feedback system provides students with an opportunity to self-reflect based on multiple feedback sources.
Impact / outcomes
Students: The Empathy Simulator communicates at the right level for students and can be adapted to suit the developmental needs of particular students. Students perceive the learning experience has having a positive impact on their professional preparation. They enjoy the learning experience and consider it a ‘safe place’ to nurture compassion and understanding required for the workplace.
Industry: Industry perceive the simulation to value-add to student’s education, recognising the innovative potential of the avatar in providing safe, replicable and low risk learning experiences for students.
Teaching Staff: The Empathy Simulator has provided an avenue for research and publication in technology journals for academics involved in the development of the program.
The Empathy Simulator related assessment has involved students submitting a written report reflecting on the learning outcomes of the virtual learning experience exchange, with reference to the verbal feedback and CCIS feedback they received during their session with the avatar and clinical educator.
Student feedback is collated via Curtin Universities online system for gathering and reporting student feedback on teaching and learning experiences.
Academic staff developed their own metric for garnering student feedback, which will form part of a qualitative research project assessing the impact of the pedagogy used in the avatar WIL experience.
The clinical educator is interviewed at the beginning, half way through, and at the end of the student exchange with the avatar to determine how teaching practices have evolved.