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Virtual Clinic

Virtual Clinic

In designing an online course, “Hard Cases in Health Care: Ethics at the Beginning of Life,” Professor Diana Cates (Religious Studies, University of Iowa) wanted to encourage students to do more than respond intellectually to questions of medical ethics. She was looking for a way to engage them on an emotional level as well. That way, students could practice dealing with some of the emotions that arise in clinical settings where people must confront matters of life and death. They could also cultivate empathy toward vulnerable patients and clients. She attended the 2015 Digital Bridges Summer Institute looking for ideas.

In collaboration with Professor James Elmborg (Library and Information Science, University of Iowa), Cates decided to build a virtual world called Medville, which features a clinic and many places for reflection and discussion, including Contemplation Island. In the clinic, students view videos that simulate lifelike encounters with healthcare providers or patients. On Contemplation Island, participants ponder the ethical dimensions of each case. They also consider the profound impact that religion can have on people’s decision making. Students in the class speak highly of the experimental pedagogy and the way it connects them to each other, makes the cases seem more tangible, and provides insight into the way that diverse religious perspectives inform people’s lives.

The class uses the osgrid platform with Medville and Contemplation Island hosted on University of Iowa servers. Elmborg led the technical implementation of the project with significant contributions by Alyssa O’Neal (clinic architect and builder) and Shanea Condon (clinic manager). The class will continue to be offered using the Medville Clinic and Contemplation Island to present students with Hard Cases in Health Care.

Diana Cates was a participant in the 2015 Digital Bridges Summer Institute. This project was supported by a Digital Bridges as a partnership between Cates and Elmborg, collaborating with University of Iowa undergraduates Alyssa O’Neal and Shanea Condon.