Simulation in health professional education

I working with David Boud, Donna Rooney (UTS: Arts and Social Sciences), Michelle Kelly (UTS: Health), and Madeleine Abrandt Dahlgren (University of Linkoping, Sweden). We are using focused observations of hi-tech simulations in a critical care subject for nurses, using sociomaterial perspectives to think differently about how simulation works, why it works, and how learning might be enhanced, particularly in large classes. This is funded through the UTS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences Research Development Grants Scheme (2013-2014), and more recently a UTS Learning 2014 Grant, in which we are trialling new approaches to enhance learning through simulation, with a view to informing pedagogies across the Nursing curriculum.

Aims and concepts

We began the project with the Aim of using contemporary sociomaterial theories of learning and practice, to cast new light on how people learn through simulation, and to inform effective pedagogies and curriculum developments. We had a secondary Aim which focused on challenges associated with diverse and large student cohorts.

In doing so we have realised the value of a number concepts and ideas. These include the notion of emergence – helping us understanding simulation as a fluid phenomenon, where learning arises in ways that can’t necessarily be specified or predicted in advance. We have also been interested in the simulation technology itself – SimMan manikins – and how they are enacted into being as more than one kind of body: a technical body, a clinical body, and a human body.

During our fieldwork we became particularly interested in students observing their peers in simulated scenarios. What are they observing? How are they supported to become good observers of practice? How can their experiences be folded into debrief to add significant value to post-simulation discussions? In answering these questions we have been exploring concepts of noticing and attuning, again from a sociomaterial perspective.

Impact, outcomes and outputs

Our initial analysis led us to a renewed focus on students who observe simulations, and the pedagogies associated with this. We were awarded a UTS Learning 2014 grant to enable us to continue this work. So, we have been trialling tools to help students observing their peers become better at noticing what is important, attuning to what is going on. This helps translate abstract concepts (such as closed loop communication, therapeutic touch) into the world of practice, and brings forward ideas such as anticipating care needs, timely interventions, and thinking what could have been done differently.

Early indications, after trials in August and November 2014, were that these tools were highly effective, making the experience more purposeful and valuable for observers, and helping them contribute more confidently and specifically to debrief discussions.

We are continuing this work, having an impact in the everyday practices of teaching and learning at UTS, by trialling new versions of these tools in other areas of the Nursing curriculum. We are also hoping to develop digital tools that capitalise on the potential we have already seen.


Hopwood, N., Rooney, D., Boud, D., & Kelly, M. (2014). Simulation in higher education: a sociomaterial view. Educational Philosophy and Theory, [online first]. doi: 10.1080/00131857.2014.971403

We currently have another paper under review, one approaching readiness for submission, and a book chapter in writing.

Conference presentations

Hopwood, N., Rooney, D., Boud, D., & Kelly, M. (2014, 27-29 August). Knowledge, hyper-reality and simulation: a sociomaterial perspective on professional learning in nursing. Paper presented at the 7th EARLI SIG 14 conference, Oslo.

Hopwood, N., Rooney, D., Boud, D., & Kelly, M. A. (2014, 25-27 June). Theorising simulation pedagogy differently: (virtual) realities, materialities, and simulacra. Paper presented at the Second International ProPEL conference ‘Professional Matters: Materialities and Virtualities of Professional Learning’, Stirling.



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