Elmhurst University and assistant nursing professor Laury Westbury have been awarded a tech grant that will enable students to improve their workplace soft skills with the help of virtual reality.
Elmhurst is one of only two universities in Illinois, and 106 higher education institutions around the world, to be selected to receive the Immersive Soft Skills Education Grant from Bodyswaps, a soft-skills training startup based in the United Kingdom; and tech giant Meta.
The grant, which Westbury applied for in December, includes two Meta Quest 2 virtual reality headsets and access to the Bodyswaps library of training simulations. The headsets and training modules will enable students to experience training in topics such as conflict management and leadership; diversity, equity and inclusion; public speaking and job interviewing; and handling different workplace scenarios.
The software can assess a user’s performance by tracking eye and other movements, and provide feedback on areas for improvement (using the hands too much, not making eye contact, etc.). Users can get the training, and the feedback, in privacy and without judgment.
Westbury plans to use the equipment and software in a leadership course this term for graduate students in the Master’s Entry in Nursing Practice program. Her students likely will use training modules about breaking bad news, bias in the workplace, navigating microaggressions and other situations that some of her students already have been starting to see during their clinical practice.
“Because of the COVID pandemic and labor shortages in health care, we’ve been practicing in a more chaotic environment,” she said. “Students are seeing things happen and aren’t sure how to react, so communication skills are more essential than ever.”
Westbury began looking for training products that could teach soft skills in an innovative way, and learned about the Immersive Soft Skills Grant.
“I’m always delighted when I can offer learning experiences to my students that are new and innovative, and this one rocked my world,” Westbury said.
Although the equipment will be used primarily in her nurse leadership course, she is eager to share it with anyone on campus who’d like to give it a try. The headsets will belong to the University and the software will be available for free until the end of May and possibly longer, if the University decides to keep using it.
“I hope there is learning, and that students become more self-aware and build confidence as they’re getting feedback,” she said. “Most importantly, I hope they understand that learning with this kind of technology can allow for a safe zone where they can really be themselves.”