Using virtual experiences of older age: exploring pedagogical and psychological experiences of students

  • Joanne Hudson
  • Taylor Waters
  • Marc Holmes
  • Sunil Agris
  • David Seymour
  • Laura Thomas
  • Emily J. Oliver

Fostering intergenerational empathy is vital for creating an age-friendly society and an important aim for Sport and Exercise Science (SES) degree programmes given that graduates are increasingly entering the healthcare workforce supporting older adults (British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences; BASES, 2018). Interventions to challenge negative stereotypes of ageing, generate empathy for older adults, and help University students gain experience of ‘being’ an older person have demonstrated mixed success (e.g., Prior & Sargent-Cox, 2014). Recent studies indicate the promise of virtual reality in this context but do not present conclusive evidence for this effect (e.g., Banakou, Kishore, & Slater, 2018). Thus this study explored SES students’ responses to virtual experiences of being an older person in a workshop. Participants completed the “Become Victor” module of the FrailtySIM© application, based on real life experience of an older person in their home, and, a University-developed immersive experience of being an older person in a social situation. Fifty-two students completed questionnaires about their experience of “Become Victor” and 15 students were interviewed (12 in 2 focus groups, 3 individually) about their experiences of both simulations. Data indicated that “Become Victor” offered students insight into being an older person that was “eye-opening” and realistic but frustrating and stressful. The social situation effectively simulated the isolation felt by some older people to an extent, but needed to be more interactive. Students felt that the simulations were important for contextualising previously delivered lecture material on older adults. Future workshop iterations will integrate lecture and virtual experiences using opportunities for student reflection on their experiences.




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