Alva Review-Courier -

Northwestern social work program earns grant to construct virtual reality lab, resource center


November 9, 2018

The grant announcement was made to students on the Enid campus in the location of where the virtual reality lab will be constructed. From left, front row: Dr. Wayne McMillin, Jordan Koehn, Emma Reed, Madeline Turner, Marsellia Rael, Alicia James, Katelyn Van Vickle, Ashley Neal; back row: Professor Jennifer Pribble, Jessica Goodballet, Elizabeth Fox-Shipley, Scott Messenger, Keilah Pool, Denise Tyrell, Morgan Lopez, Linda Smith from the University of Oklahoma, and Dr. Kylene Rehder.

Northwestern Oklahoma State University's social work program has been awarded a $40,000 grant by the Child Welfare Professional Enhancement Program (CWPEP) Student Payback Fund Grants to construct a social work virtual reality lab and resource center on the Enid campus.

This grant project will create a state-of-the-art virtual reality lab in which social work students will wear a headset or goggles transporting them into various virtual environments to learn professional practice skills. The virtual reality curriculum will center upon experiences such as home visits, assessing child risk, social worker safety, interviewing skills, courtroom testimony, cultural awareness and disaster response. Dr. Kylene Rehder, chair of the department of social work and program director, authored the grant and will serve as the project's principal investigator.

"This is one of the most exciting projects I have ever worked on," Rehder said. "The opportunities to educate social work students with this technology is limitless, as we have the abilities to change the practice environment and the nature of the clients."

Simulation training is a well-established feature in most professional practice programs, therefore the department of social work is proud to provide a safe environment for students to practice skills in an accelerated format, better preparing them for the field experience and "real world" social work practice.

"The social work virtual reality lab will provide students with an immersive learning experience, combining visual, auditory and kinesthetic learning modalities," Rehder said. "The integration of this technology will transform the learning experience of students at Northwestern and will result in more qualified and professionally skilled social workers in the field."

Jennifer Pribble, director of social work field education, will serve as the virtual reality lab coordinator and direct all experiential and simulations experiences for social work students.

"Virtual reality in social work education will not only enhance the core curriculum, but will also enhance field experiences by allowing us to guide and strengthen student's skills before their placements in practicum settings," Pribble said. "I am excited to see the overall increase in confidence students will have related to the implementation of core competences. Strengthening skills and practice confidence is my ultimate goal with the development of the social work virtual reality lab and resource center."

The social work seniors enrolled in Rehder's Social Research and Evaluation course served as contributing partners during the grant development process by gathering background research on the effectiveness of virtual reality training. Students included Rhema Abercrombie of Enid, Heather Bettencourt of Alva, Mirissa Branine of Woodward, Jordan Cremers of Alva, Elizabeth Fox-Shipley of Laverne, Jessica Goodballet of Mooreland, Alicia James of Woodward, Jordan Koehn of Alva, Keilah Pool of Woodward, Marsellia Rael of Woodward, Emma Reed of Freedom, Jennifer Ruppel of Woodward, Madeline Turner of Enid, Denise Tyrell of Enid, and Katelyn Van Vickle of Woodward.

"It was an amazing opportunity to be able to apply classroom knowledge to a real life project," Turner said. "I'm grateful to be a part of a program where faculty value students and integrate them into professional social work practice."

The social work program has been awarded a grant to construct a virtual reality lab on the Enid Campus. From left: Dr. Wayne McMillin, Enid campus dean; Professor Jennifer Pribble, director of social work field education; Dr. Kylene Rehder, chair of the department of social work; and Linda Smith from the University of Oklahoma, Child Welfare Professional Enhancement Program.

Linda Smith, from CWPEP at the University of Oklahoma Anne and Henry Zarrow School of Social Work, delivered the grant news to social work students in person on the Enid campus on Thursday, Nov. 1.

"It was so cool to hear the news in person for the first time that we earned the grant we had all invested some much time in," Reed said. "After the announcement, we busted into cheers and had an afternoon of celebration."

This grant is being administered by the University of Oklahoma on behalf of the OKDHS in order to assist the department in retaining quality professional social workers in the public child welfare system.

"An excellent, well-rounded education is not a one-dimensional experience with only textbooks or lectures," Fox-Shipley said. "Technology has transformed every facet of our lives, and university education is no exception. As a social work student, I know how valuable this virtual reality lab will be in preparing students for real world practice. Northwestern Oklahoma State University continues pushing into the future by staying on top of cutting edge technology such as this."


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