Sunday, August 30, 2009

Will virtual birthing unit ideals inspire real birthing unit practice?

The Te Wāhi Whānau – The Birth Place in Second Life project has put another informative video out. If you watch that video, prepare yourself to be a little weirded out. Its really informative for those involved in midwifery and child birth, but for the rest of us its hard to get over freak out of using Second Life to consider such an extremely real life thing like birth! But that's exactly what I'd like to consider here...

Lowell Cremorne over at Metaverse Health has given the project a very nice write up, noting points such as:
the main impression I’m left with is how midwife-driven this project is. What I mean by that, is the birthing unit is so much better than most in existence in the real world. As a Registered Nurse (but not a midwife), I’ve witnessed half a dozen births and even from that limited perspective I can totally appreciate how much better a birthing environment Te Wāhi Whānau is compared to even the better hospital-based birthing units. As a clinical simulation for midwives, I can see its power as a key adjunct to lab-based learning and practicums. The gamut from initial assessment of labour to initiating breastfeeding and perineal care is covered in a comprehensive way.
While the development project has been focused on exploring ways of helping midwife students achieve certain learning objectives, the design of the virtual space refers to work outside that narrower scope. The design of the Second Life model drew on University of Technology Sydney research looking into what an ideal birthing unit would be. Having midwife students, mothers and fathers to be, and a wide range of health professionals watch the video and possibly even go into the Second Life build could inspire building better birthing units in real life. That would be a project outcome we may never know, but it is interesting to consider such an implication.

I am not aware of anything else that gives a widely accessible depiction of an ideal birthing unit. I can't find a link to the UTS research, and I don't think they have published any drawings or illustrations outside the academic journals they have probably published in. I know they haven't built a model for everyone to see in Second Life, nor have they produced a video on their designs and published it on Youtube. This project has done all that, as well as supporting texts on Wikieduator.

At the very least, having all these depictions made available in popular media sites like Youtube (a video made possible only by the models in Second Life) will likely mean that many mothers-to-be will take a look, and this will likely influence what they look for in a real life birthing unit (if they have a choice). This consciousness in the "market demand" for birthing units, along with the model in Second Life, could help leverage real change in birthing unit design, as more and more health professionals will be compelled to watch the video themselves.

None of this is a core objective of the project unfortunately, and so the idea is not directly addressed in the media, nor will the wider educational/learning impact be explored. I've written before about the potential of Second Life influencing ideas about real life spaces - I find it the most compelling aspect about the platform, and probably the side that has the biggest impact educationally. I would love to take part in a project that explored this relationship a whole lot more, especially a project where we focused on the linguistic premises of the platform while we worked on something specifically designed to influence a real life space.


Carolyn said...

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Carolyn said...

I think this may have influenced a colleague I was speaking with. She was considering equipment for the birthing unit she works in. When I showed her the SL BU her interest in getting a rope for women to use as a support in labour. She is now looking into this.

Sarah Stewart said...

I'm amazed about that, Carolyn cos I took a very cynical view of Leigh's post and thought...whatever! Just goes to show...