Virtual Reality and Health Promotions in Teens

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BY Julianne Minervini

Staff Reporter

The “Virtual Reality and Health Promotion in Teens: Bringing VR to Schools” presentation took place on Friday, Nov. 1 in the Martire Theater. The event was sponsored by Sacred Heart University’s Critical Thinking Across the Curriculum Program and the AR/VR/XR Innovation Laboratory.

Many students attended because it was part of their class. The room was filled with a mix of professors and students along with speaker Kimberly Hieftje PhD, MS, a research scientist at the Yale School of Medicine and the Deputy Director of the Yale Center for Health and Learning Games.

Kimberly Hieftje has worked on vaping and electronic cigarette, tobacco use prevention and HIV testing and counseling in school. She has also worked on getting kids excited for math at the first grade level and setting good examples at a young age for students to feel confident in math.

“I am going to talk to you about Invite Only VR. This is a vaping prevention game. We are just in the throes of a randomized control trial right now, so we are in middle schools in Milford, Connecticut, testing our game,” said Hiefje. “It’s a very big epidemic and my team already has a vaping prevention game ready to go.”

Hiefje and her team took on a vaping project two years ago. She heard it was about to come on the market so her team and her were already aware about it.

Hiefje said, “The development of Invite Only VR was a narrative-based game that incorporated voice recognition software to enhance skill practice and focus on influencing behaviors and mediators of behaviors related to vaping.”

Psychology Professor David Shenfield said, “I invited Dr. Hieftje because she and her research team are getting a lot of positive press for their efforts to use VR to promote health.”

“Students should attend to understand how VR is used currently and think about how it can apply to the field they study, and their future professional career and I think all students regardless of their major can benefit. VR technology will be used in all areas in the near future,” said Shenfield.

Senior health science major Victoria Boughton said, “I am here because I have a strong interest in health promotion. I am a health science major and I would like to go into health education in the school systems as well as with teens as I think that is a really important time to reach out and help people with their health behaviors. I have never heard of using virtual reality for health promotion, so I was interested in seeing what the speaker had to say about it and if it would be something that I could potentially use in my career in the future.”

Candace Parrish, the Director and Assistant Professor of School of Communication, Media & the Arts said, “The talk today given by Dr. Kimberly Hieftje was very informative and engaging. Being a health communication researcher, I was especially impressed by learning new and engaging ways to promote positive health behavior among youth and young adults. It was also good to hear the challenges Dr. Hieftje’s team encountered while piloting and running their VR study because it provides a full picture of the process of creating a VR game and conducting a research project around it for validity purposes. The talk and presentation definitely ignited my interest in using VR in my own discipline of communication.”

Hieftje said, “Cultivating strong partnerships with schools is essential and must go beyond the data and we can’t just leave the technology and assume it will be used.”

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