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Dr. Marian Luctkar-Flude filming a virtual simulation game with a group  of students

Responding to challenges in nursing education during the COVID-19 pandemic: The creation and evaluation of virtual simulation games

 This research snapshot first appeared in the School of Nursing's 2021 Research Report. You can read the report in full here.

The restrictions placed on traditional in-person lectures, skills labs and clinical placements during the COVID-19 pandemic have led to an overwhelming demand for eLearning activities. While research shows that virtual simulations demonstrate outcomes similar to traditional live simulations within health education, few nursing schools had incorporated them into their program curriculum prior to the pandemic. Barriers to adopting virtual simulations in higher education can include a range of impeding factors, from the cost of the commercial products to a lack of faculty time or expertise in developing and implementing simulation projects.  

It’s these barriers that Queen’s researcher Dr. Marian Luctkar-Flude is working to address, supporting nurse educators across Canada by creating and evaluating novel virtual simulation games (VSGs) on a variety of clinical topics.  

“We created a VSG design process that enables nurse educators to build VSGs using a GoPro camera, an iPad and our template. The advantages to creating VSGs this way is that not only do they address nursing course and program outcomes, but they are also accessible and repeatable at no cost to learners,” explains Dr. Luctkar-Flude. Sharing the VSGs through the Canadian Alliance of Nurse Educators gives nursing programs access to over 120 simulation games hosted in the CAN-Sim repository, also greatly increasing the cost-effectiveness of adopting VSGs. 

 A globally recognized expert in clinical simulation-based education, in 2021 Dr. Luctkar-Flude and her fellow Canadian Alliance of Nurse Educators using Simulation (CAN-Sim) co-president Dr. Jane Tyerman (uOttawa), worked with colleagues to obtain over $1.2 million in research funding to support virtual simulation design, usability testing and evaluation of learning outcomes.  One of the virtual simulations developed includes a series related to wound management and assessment, funded by the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario (RNFOO) Nurse Innovator Award and developed in collaboration with fellow Queen’s researcher Dr. Kevin Woo. Another four series funded by eCampus Ontario include: (1) primary health care skills for nurse practitioners (in collaboration with Ryerson University); (2) medication administration virtual puzzle escape rooms; (3) community health nursing competencies (in collaboration with McMaster University); and (4) cultural humility addressing racism and microaggressions (CHARM). Co-created with Queen’s researcher Dr. Mona Sawhney, the CHARM virtual simulations were also developed in partnership with seven nursing students from Queen’s University and the University of Ottawa. Additionally, Drs. Luctkar-Flude and Tyerman oversaw the creation of 19 VSGs for the Virtu-WIL virtual simulation project, funded by Colleges and Institutes Canada, aimed at providing open access virtual simulations for nursing education.  

The ultimate goal of all these projects is to provide engaging and effective evidence-based educational experiences. While restrictions around in-person learning may be easing, Dr. Luctkar-Flude says that e-learning opportunities like VSGs are here to stay.

With the projected return to unrestricted in-person instruction in 2022, it is anticipated that virtual simulations will continue to provide high-quality educational options to augment or replace traditional classroom, simulation lab, and clinical learning experiences. Thus, research on best practices related to virtual simulation design, delivery and debriefing will remain a priority to guide nursing faculty.