Otago University puts augmented reality into teaching

New app to help train medical students

A team at the University of Otago has developed what is claimed to be a world-first augmented reality mobile application to assist in the training of medical students.

The app enables students to scan the bar code on the package of a range of non-prescription medications and then see, on the phone or tablet, a 3D molecular representation of the medication’s main active ingredient. Students can rotate and explore that three-dimensional model on their device.

According to the university, the animations featured in the app are the only detailed 3D animations of drug action in the world and are based on digital files for the chemical structures provided by Associate professor Joel Tyndall from Otago’s School of Pharmacy.

The app was developed by New Zealand/Australian digital solution agency One Fat Sheep, set up by University of Otago graduates. It was funded by a University of Otago teaching development grant awarded to Drs Belinda Cridge and Catherine Gliddon and is based on lecture material taught by Dr Gliddon to a first year biochemistry class.

Cridge said these students were preparing for professional courses where many of them would be prescribing drugs. “We are trying to improve the quality of their education to make our entire health system safer.”

Gliddon said the app had been developed to overcome a problem with teaching a topic in biochemistry known as receptor theory. “Students cannot visualise the drug binding to the receptor under the microscope. The development team therefore incorporated animations of the underlying theory in the app to aid students’ understanding.”

She added: “Morpheus has been purposely designed to connect the lecture material to a real world situation such as drugs available to the New Zealand public on a supermarket shelf.”

The app is presently a prototype and will be demonstrated to students at lectures in August. Gliddon said little research had been carried out on the effectiveness of augmented reality apps in education.

If students engage and it does prove a useful learning tool, it’s likely this will be the first of many augmented reality teaching resources," she said. “Obviously, we can add more drugs into the next generation app, but we can also look at its potential for things like 3D body imaging to see the drug circulating.”

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