The “island” in the title is the Public Health Preparedness island that is part of the virtual world Second Life. The island is developed by the Center for the Advancement of Distance Education (CADE) at the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Our collaborators at the Montgomery County Public Health Services organized a meeting this morning for some of their partners to see a demo of the Public Health Preparedness island. CADE has built on the island a hospital, a school, an urban neighborhood, and some other facilities for users to setup, visualize, and interact with others in mass vaccination and dispensing clinics (aka PODs). (This effort follows other projects by CADE to develop games for training public health professionals.)
A group of about 12 of us were in a conference room, watching a screen while one of the Montgomery County staff entered the island with her avatar. There were five other avatars on the island with her; controlling each one was someone from CADE. Each user could speak to the others, and we could hear anyone whose avatar was close to ours. The avatars moved through the island by walking, flying, or teleporting.
In some ways, it was like a normal tour: walk around the facility, see the place, and stand around asking questions and listening to the host’s answers. But of course we were seated in a conference room in Maryland, our hosts were in Illinois, and nothing on the the whole island was real.
Using a virtual POD means that one doesn’t have to go through the logistical challenge of setting up a real one to do an exercise, and there is a lot one can do in the virtual one. The island has been used for designing PODs, since one can setup every detail, including tables and signs, and then documenting the three-dimensional layout by creating snapshots or renderings for documentation. One can create and save different designs and switch them on or off as desired. It allows interactions and so one can do role-playing to train staff on how to deal with situations that may occur.
The limitations include the learning curve to become good at navigating and interacting with the virtual world and the limited number of avatars (30) that can be on the island at any point in time, though CADE is working on programming automated players (or “bots”) that can answer questions from a user. One can use immersive interfaces such as head-mounted displays or a CAVE, though that is not common according to the folks at CADE.