DEHub Research Projects/University of New England/About

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Contextualising virtual interaction opportunities in the health sciences: pharmacist and social work client counselling
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Counselling skills are essential in many health professions. The focus of this application is on counselling skills in pharmacy and social work. Patient counselling is the term employed by pharmacists to describe verbal interactions with clients. In social work, counselling describes the therapeutic approach which aims to increase clients’ sense of well-being and, employs a range of techniques based on experiential relationship building. Students in both professions are required to develop core interpersonal skills during their training to successfully engage with clients during student practicum and into their professional careers.

The aim of this project is to develop a small suite of 3D virtual scenarios for students from both UNE and CSU pharmacy and social work programs. Two different approaches will be used. The first will use recordings of avatars modelling various counselling practices to build students’ questioning repertoire and critical reflection skills. This will be introduced to students first. The second approach will use an online interactive mode, which will allow students to practice counselling skills using role play with avatars of other students or academics, providing a more complex learning environment. Both approaches will be evaluated to determine the usefulness and effectiveness of the 3D virtual world in teaching counselling skills to pharmacy and social work students. The ease of using 3D virtual scenarios for academic staff will also be evaluated.


Graduate pharmacy and social work students with highly developed interpersonal skills who can successfully engage with clients in their professional careers.

Research Team

Chief investigator

Professor Ieva Stupans, UNE, School of Science and Technology  (Professor of Pharmacy)


The project will be undertaken collaboratively between CSU pharmacy, UNE pharmacy and UNE social work.

Name Institution Role Area
 Ieva Stupans UNE Project Leader Pharmacy
 Myfanwy Maple UNE Collaborator Social Work
 Greg Cotterel UNE Collaborator Pharmacy
 Jane Donnelly CSU Orange Collaborator Pharmacy
 Heather Volk CSU Wagga Collaborator Pharmacy
 Sheila Scutter  JCU Collaborator

Medical education

Associate Professor Scutter is the Director of Foundation Studies in the medical program at James Cook University, having previously held positions as Dean: Teaching and Learning in the Division of Health Sciences at UniSA and Dean of Health across 12 campuses of the Higher Colleges of Technology in the United Arab Emirates. She holds a Bachelor of Applied Science, Honours, Masters of Education and PhD in Neurophysiology and has also completed numerous courses in teaching in the online environment. Dr Scutter has worked on several ALTC-funded projects, including working in the 3D virtual world environment with Dr Denise Wood (UniSA). This latter project has involved the development of a virtual health clinic where medical radiation and midwifery students can practice communication skills. Dr Scutter has published widely in the areas of new technologies and their application to the education of health science students.

Dr Myfanwy Maple is course coordinator of the social work programs at the University of New England. Over the past three years she has been responsible for the development, introduction and implementation of the Bachelor of Social Work, and more recently the Master of Social Work (Professional Qualifying) at UNE – both of which are now accredited qualifying social work programs with the Australian Association of Social Workers. She holds a Bachelor of Social Work (Hons 1) and PhD and has recently completed a Graduate Certificate in Higher Education. Dr Maple has presented at conferences and published in peer reviewed journals on the development of social work for single cohort of students (internal and external) using online and blended learning. In addition, she has developed a longitudinal study of social work student’s experiences of learning in blended environments, and is currently collecting phase two data for this project.

Jane Donnelly is a lecturer in pharmacy practice at Charles Sturt University, Orange Campus. Jane is a clinical pharmacist with extensive experience in tertiary referral hospitals in areas such as cardiology and renal/renal transplant. As well as working with CSU Jane is a QUM facilitator for the NSW Central West Division of General Practice. Prior to starting at CSU Ms Donnelly sought to gain a broad range of experience, working in community pharmacy and a pharmaceutical company. Jane has a keen interest in public health, future developments in pharmacy practice and ensuring her profession progresses positively. Jane has a B.Pharm from the University of Sydney (2003), Master of Public Health from the University of New South Wales (2009) and is an accredited pharmacist through AACP (2010).

Heather Volk is a lecturer in pharmacy practice with Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga Campus. Prior to joining CSU late in 2010 Heather was a lecturer with the University of Qld and seconded to the Mount Isa Centre for Rural and Remote Health, James Cook University. Her interest in rural and remote health has seen her involved with the development and use of technology for education of rural health professionals. Heather was also involved with the development of a Virtual Dispensing environment at the University of Qld to allow pharmacy students to practice their dispensing skills and receive feedback in a virtual environment. She holds a Bachelor of Pharmacy and a Master of Pharmaceutical Studies from the University of Qld.

Greg Cotterell holds a Bachelor of Pharmacy (1994, University of Queensland) and is a Registered Pharmacist in NSW. He has held a number of Pharmacy Manager positions and has broad experience in skills required in community pharmacy, namely counselling, communication, HR management, business management, building relationships with the pharmaceutical industry, and development of staff. Currently Greg is a lecturer in Pharmacy at UNE, focussed on developing Pharmacy Practice units for both internal and external undergraduate students.

Reference Group



Maree Simpson, UniSA
Wendy Bowles,CSU
Julie Willems, UNE
Steve Campbell, UNE
Denise Wood, UniSA

Project Evaluator

Our roles as project members

Chief investigator

Professor Ieva Stupans is the Professor of Pharmacy at UNE, having previously held academic positions in pharmacy and in teaching and learning at UniSA. She has led several ALTC projects in pharmacy education, and has also been a team or reference group member of others. In 2009 she was appointed as an Australian Learning and Teaching Council Fellow. The program of activity is based around pharmacy curriculum “Supporting student transition to a futures orientated professional identity”. Professor Stupans has published widely in the areas of teaching of English as additional language students and experiential learning in Pharmacy. Professor Stupans will be leading the rollout of the new Bachelor of Pharmacy program at UNE.

Professor Stupans will be a participant researcher, implementing the video based scenario discussion resources and the roleplays in virtual worlds in her classes. She is also negotiating with industry representatives to ensure the scenarios are lifelike and targeting essential skills.

Project team members

As participant researchers in the Action Research process, each team member is contributing scripts for the videos of workplace counselling scenarios which will be used with classes in Semester 2, 2011. They are also using roleplay in the virtual world in Semester 1, 2012.

Reference Group

Australian Virtual Worlds Working Group Chair Sue gregory, University of New England.

Project Evaluator

Project Manager

Lindy (McKeown) Orwin is managing the day-to-day project activities including the building of the virtual world sets, creating the videos, establishing roleplay locations in the virtual world, supporting research activities and assiting with staff training and development. Email contact.

The virtual world environment is being developed on the New Zealand Virtual World Grid as part of the Medical Precinct hosted at University of Auckland. There is an existing hospital in which a number of rooms are being modified as locations suitable for counselling roleplay. This project is contributing a community pharmacy. These facilities will be shared by all participating universities and are accessible to all Australian and New Zealand universities.

Symposium Facilitator