Blazing fires, life-threatening scenarios come to Navarro College X.R. Lab

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Blazing fires, hazardous chemical spills, heart attack patients, burn victims and other emergencies will soon test the mettle of Navarro College E.M.S. and medical assistance students without a single injury risk.

Leslie Hayes, Navarro College dean of workforce training and continuing education, says the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has issued a $250,000 grant that will fund a new eXtended reality lab — known as an X.R. lab — at the Waxahachie Navarro College Campus. The new lab will offer nurse aide, E.M.S. and fire academy students a chance to experience unlimited emergency scenarios through both virtual reality and augmented reality sessions.

Headsets and tactile-feedback hand controllers will allow students to be immersed in the imagery of a virtual reality session and perform a variety of tasks while developing confidence in their emergency response instincts before encountering the risks of advanced training.

man with vr headset raising hand
Navarro College nurse aide and E.M.S. students will soon have a new X.R. lab.

“Some of the activities that I’ve seen, for example for our fire training classes: they could be in a building where the team is going in to do a search, say for someone in confined spaces. There could be a hazmat spill: the team goes in, assesses the spill, cleans it up, and they practice the skills that they’ve learned in class in this safe environment where no one’s going to truly get hurt,” Hayes says. “We’ll still have the hands-on learning in the clinical or in the skills setting, but they will have practiced it enough in this virtual environment to where the instructor should feel confident that students could go out and do that on in a live setting.”

Hayes says the X.R. Lab will also save the school money by reducing the need to create training scenarios that consume supplies.

The Oculus devices obtained through the grant can also help nurse aide and clinical medical assistant students train for patients experiencing life-threatening conditions such as a heart attack and develop the skills they need to assess the patient’s condition and respond with appropriate care. Additionally, a 3D model of anatomy may be represented in a functioning state, such as a pumping heart that students can actually feel beating, which offers educational advantages over dissecting dead specimens. The X.R. lab will offer a far more hands-on type of training than textbooks and projection screens can, Hayes says.

“This is a huge new space that we find a lot of incoming students live in — is that world of technology — they’re video gamers; they like to see things in a different way than sit in a traditional classroom and learn,” Hayes says. “So, this just gives us as another way to reach and engage students. But it’s also allowing us to engage some of our students in a safe manner, in a way that we may not be able to go out to a building and have a hazardous spill for a hazmat training. But in this virtual environment, they can see that and experience what it would look like in that environment.”

Hayes says the X.R. lab will likely be expanded into more general work training applications, especially for specialized construction jobs.

“We’ve had demonstrations of software that has someone climb up on scaffolding to do some work in a big building. That’s not something we could simulate here in a classroom. But in that augmented environment, if they’re there and they happen to topple over, no one’s getting hurt. So it’s an opportunity for us just to change the way that we think about teaching a skill and we hope that the students really are engaged by this alternative learning,” she says.

Each year, the school trains about 1,200 E.M.S. and nurse aide and clinical medical assistant students through its workforce training and continuing education program.


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