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Bringing Interprofessional Education into the Virtual World for Online Learners

I have become a champion of interprofessional education (IPE), which has afforded me the opportunity to participate in several efforts to offer face-to-face IPE activities for our students at ASU and beyond. Unfortunately, none these projects were feasible for my own online RN-BSN nursing students to attend. After reading an article about the use of the Second Life® virtual world in education, I knew I had discovered an innovative way to bring IPE to my online students.

Who, What, and How

I designed and delivered a pilot learning module based on an end-of-life simulation scenario for students from four different disciplines:

  • Nursing
  • Nutrition
  • Audiology
  • Clinical Research Management

The content of the learning activity was delivered entirely online, allowing students to participate when it worked best for their schedules. The activity utilized Second Life®, the open-source Blackboard Course Sites learning management system, and other free tools including SignUpGenius and YouTube.

Virtual Simulation

I chose the topic of the simulation to be relevant to the specific mix of health-related disciplines represented, allowing for customization of the content to engage each student's perspective. Preparatory work included required reading and videos chosen to introduce the concepts of both interprofessional practice and palliative care.

Interprofessional simulation screenshot

The 35 participating students were given instructions to self-organize into evenly dispersed groupings that contained at least three of the four disciplines for each of the six scheduled simulations.

As lead faculty for the activity, I played the role of the patient, utilizing our instructional designer to record the sessions and provide technical guidance.

Guided Debrief

After participating in the 30-minute simulation session, the students navigated a weeklong guided debriefing with their simulation team. The asynchronous discussion included a self-reflection of interprofessional skills demonstrated during the simulation, and a series of reflective questions designed to apply their new knowledge of interprofessional practice and patient-centered care. For the self-reflection, students were given access to video recordings of their simulations and a validated rubric for assessing interprofessional collaboration.


31 of the 35 participating students completed a pre- and post-survey that included qualitative evaluation of the learning experience. An analysis of themes helped identify the most valuable outcomes of the experience as well as things that could be improved going forward.

Students most valued the experience for teaching the importance of collaboration with their interprofessional peers and embracing communication as a critical skill for interprofessional practice.


My experience with this project can provide a template for faculty looking to expand IPE offerings in their courses. It features a free, expandable, and customizable learning activity that can be offered across departments, colleges, and universities at no cost to students and programs. The results show this fully developed learning activity is an effective and affordable solution for online faculty looking to bring IPE into the virtual world.


This project wouldn’t have happened without the help of Jessica Cole and Teri Kennedy, as well as a good dose of inspiration from the CAIPER leadership team for always encouraging us to think outside the box.


 About the Author

Heidi SanbornHeidi Sanborn is Clinical Assistant Professor and Associate Director of the RN-BSN and Concurrent Enrollment Program (CEP) in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation at Arizona State University. She is pursuing a DNP in Innovation Leadership, focusing her scholarship efforts on interprofessional education, collaboration, and practice through publications and presentations in a variety of national and international forums.

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