At the Learning Resources Centre (LRC) of the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine, Professor Helene Hoffman and her colleagues are studying since 1995 the possibilities to implement Virtual Reality (VR) based simulation in the teaching and learning of human anatomy. This strategy has resulted in the prototype development of a flexible and extensible object oriented 3-D software architecture, called VisualiseR ©. The educational application integrates 3-D anatomic models with supporting 2-D media such as diagnostic images, surgical videos and literature searches, as to create a VR-Multimedia Synthesis (VR-MMS) Environment. In the future, the Anatomic VisualiseR © will help medical students to establish a context for their acquired knowledge, skills and reasoning.
In order to fully meet the faculty and student needs with regard to anatomy training, the team of Professor Hoffman initially undertook a profound analysis of the learning issues as well as their subsequent applications in the course of the UCSD medical program. Afterwards, both the educational goals and the evaluation protocols were set and used as a starting point to create the appropriate Virtual Learning Environment. The Anatomic VisualiseR © actually supports three viewing conditions: the non-immersive configuration with regular colour monitor, called monoscopic CRT; the partially-immersive configuration, referred to as stereoscopic CRT with shutterglasses and finally, the full immersive configuration with head mounted display.
From a practical point of view, disparate types of lesson resources can be identified, accessed, viewed and manipulated through the creation of encapsulated lesson elements or 'blocks'. At the heart of each Anatomic VisualiseR © exercise is a 'Study Guide' which organises links between medical resources and didactic material. The individual blocks may consist of elaborate 3-D models, exploratory tools or collected textual material and can be moved in six degrees of freedom to enhance the student's spatial knowledge. Control of each block's functionality is executed by means of FACET, the 3-D block manager which supervises the visual display through the use of newly developed 3-D widgets. These are objects like selectable lists, scrollbars and touch buttons especially designed for 3-D presentation and interaction.
The Anatomic VisualiseR ©, written in C++, has been running on various systems to test the overall frame rate capacities. These are depending on different factors such as the number of polygons in models and the choice of display. The research team is currently investigating the efficiency of the system's extension with haptic devices. In any case, the simulation based application allows students to discover structures in ways not imaginable in the real world since they can be taken apart and examined from multiple points of view. Professor Hoffman and her colleagues are planning studies to define the specific benefits of Virtual Reality based teaching systems as well as the role of interface design on didactic outcomes. Please, visit the UCSD Learning Resources Centre web site for a detailed and interesting description of their projects.