[20] Out with the old Using new simulated reality approaches to teach students about age-related stereotypes


Out with the old Using new simulated reality approaches to teach students about age-related stereotypes

Author (s)

Joanne Hudson Associate Professor
College of Engineering
Taylor Waters1, Marc Holmes1, Laura Thomas2, Emily Oliver

1Swansea University, 2Northumbria University, Durham University3


This study assessed the use of simulated reality experiences in teaching students about ageing, and, the psychological and physical barriers to being physically active that are faced by older adults. The study had two objectives, to: (1) evaluate students’ experiences of simulated reality activities in learning and teaching sessions about physical and psychological barriers to older adults’ physical activity, and, (2) examine the effect of simulated reality immersive experiences on students’ perceptions of ageing, stereotypes of ageing and empathy for older people.

Stereotypes of ageing in the Western world are predominantly negative, with potentially deleterious effects on older people’s behaviour and how others treat them (Kotter-Grühn, 2015). Interventions show some success in challenging these stereotypes in University students. Using an imagined interaction with an older person, Prior and Sargent-Cox (2014) demonstrated improvements in males’, but not females’, age expectations, that were mediated by ageing anxiety. Similarly, Eskildsen and Flacker (2009) showed that a week long course on ageing improved medical students’ attitudes towards, and knowledge about, elderly people. Following a presentation on positive ageing narratives and images of older adults, and, class activities designed to challenge stereotypes, respectively, students’ expectations of ageing and stereotypes of ageing showed improvements (Bardach et al., 2010; Wurtele & Maruyama, 2013). Interestingly, although Van Winkle et al. (2010) found short-term changes in students’ empathy for older people following a workshop, these were not maintained 7 days post-intervention. Although virtual and simulated reality interventions have been used in other contexts in higher education (e.g., Kidd et al., 2012) no studies have investigated the use of simulations, including virtual reality, of older adult experiences, to modify students’ perceptions and stereotypes of ageing.

In this study, participants were recruited from students studying the module SR314 Health Related Exercise. 22 students completed pre and post simulated experience measures of perceptions of ageing, stereotypes of ageing and empathy for older people, as follows: Expectations Regarding Ageing Survey-12 (Sarkisian et al., 2005); Kogan Attitudes Toward Old People Scale (Kogan, 1961); Fraboni Scale of Ageism (Fraboni et al., 1990); Implicit Association Test of Attitudes Towards Ageing (Nose et al., 2005); Kiersma-Chen Empathy Scale (Kiersma et al., 2013) and a modified Aging Simulation Experience Survey (Chen et al., 2015). 14 students were interviewed (11 in 2 focus groups and 3 individually) about their experiences of the simulations, impacts on learning, and, effects on perceptions of ageing and older people. The virtual reality and simulation workshop involved scenarios presenting opportunities to experience the older person’s experience of daily tasks. ANOVA was used to assess changes in quantitative variables pre and post workshop, and, thematic analysis was used (Braun & Clarke, 2006) to analyse qualitative data.

Preliminary qualitative data analysis indicated that the simulations enhanced students’ ability to identify with the limitations of being an older adult, and stimulated frustration at these limitations. They reported that the simulations enhanced their understanding and helped to contextualise previous lecture content. Further insight will be drawn from the data and recommendations made for future application within teaching contexts.

Session Outline

Delegates might be interested in the potential application of the approach to their own teaching contexts.

Key Words

Simulated reality, Ageing stereotypes, Empathy

Key Messages

Simulations enhanced students’ ability to identify with the others’ experiences and experience similar emotions, enhancing understanding and helping to contextualise previous lecture content.



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