virtual reality - The University of Tulsa

virtual reality

Virtual reality nursing — in 3D

A woman in a red top in the foreground and a woman in blue medical scrubs in the background
Clinical Assistant Professor of Nursing Cassandra Barrow and BSN junior Mary DeFrancisco

Does the thought of having an intravenous drip hooked up through the back of your boney hand give you the shivers? If so, spare a thought for the parallel anxiety many nursing students feel as they learn how to pierce your skin using razor-sharp metal without doing you any harm.

Enter Clinical Assistant Professor of Nursing Cassandra Barrow, who focused her recent Ph.D. research on the role 3D virtual reality simulation could play in alleviating such feelings while contributing to nursing students’ skills development, critical thinking and communication. Thanks in large part to Barrow’s work, such innovative technology is now a mainstay of undergraduate nursing education at The University of Tulsa School of Nursing.

Using virtual reality to quell real anxiety

TU’s Lawson Family Simulation Center and Nursing Skills Lab contains state-of-the-art high-fidelity equipment used to help train the country’s future nurses. Here, students in the undergraduate nursing program engage in hands-on activities – such as inserting a catheter or injecting medications – in a simulated clinical environment.

Prior to working with real patients, such experiences enable students to practice technical skills, gain muscle memory, make errors safely and receive feedback to improve their performance. According to Barrow, two of the main benefits of high-fidelity simulation – and the reason it is in such great demand – are that nursing students have the opportunity to improve their performance while decreasing their anxiety.

“At the same time, however, studies have shown that high-fidelity simulation itself often brings about anxiety for nursing students,” commented Barrow, who received her Ph.D. in nursing from Oklahoma City University in 2021. To address this, some nursing schools have introduced two-dimensional screen-based virtual simulations before turning students over to hands-on simulation work. This technology, Barrow notes, has been shown to help lower anxiety.

A 3D approach

Barrow’s interest in the potential role of virtual reality in nursing education was sparked by her husband, Thomas Barrow (BA ’06, BS ’19), a TU computer simulation and gaming graduate. “Having taught nursing since 2015, I would watch so many of my students shaking with anxiety during their first hands-on simulations with the high-fidelity mannequins we have at TU. I knew there had to be ways to lessen their stress. My husband’s work with virtual reality set me on the path of and inspired my passion for incorporating the approach into nursing education here at TU.”


For her doctoral research, Barrow undertook a study of the effect of 3D virtual simulations and nursing students’ anxiety. “Basically, I wondered how much more could 3D virtual reality accomplish given that 2D had already been proven helpful.”

What she discovered was highly promising: There was a significant decrease (p=.005) in reported state anxiety of the nursing students after the intervention. “These results,” Barrow concluded, “suggest that virtual reality simulation really does influence state anxiety scores in pre-licensure nursing students regarding their first high-fidelity hands-on simulation.”

Based on her findings, Barrow recommended that 3D virtual reality simulation be added early during nursing students’ education. Further, she advised that such training include a debriefing session held either virtually or face to face.

Learning to deliver excellent care

“A person goes into nursing because they want to deliver excellent care,” said Barrow. “My research, as well as my experience as a nurse and nurse educator, have proven to me that decreasing student anxiety is itself a central concept of caring. And 3D virtual reality simulation is definitely a way to achieve that goal.”

A woman wearing blue medical scrubs and a virtual reality headset standing in front of a computer monitor
BSN junior Kyra Vanderweele

Today, 3D virtual reality simulation is being deployed in TU’s pre-licensure bachelor of nursing program. Using software from Oxford Medical Simulation, students now reap the benefits of experiencing five simulations over their first three semesters.

“Using 3D virtual reality simulation with headsets and hand controllers offers a bridge between 2D screen-based simulation and mannequin-based hands-on simulation,” noted Barrow. And with the technology, students can complete the same simulation in 2D as many times as they want after completing it in 3D.

“Not only do our students find their stress melt away,” noted Barrow, “but they also enjoy the process of learning more and find they are able to retain more information.”

Do you aspire to be a well-trained, caring health care professional with great job prospects? Then consider earning your bachelor of science in nursing degree at the TU School of Nursing!


Dare to discover: Young researchers visit TU

On July 16, 15 students and three teachers from Tulsa’s Will Rogers High School attended Discovery Day, a new event hosted by The University of Tulsa’s Tulsa Undergraduate Research Challenge (TURC). Discovery Day offers high school students the opportunity to meet with TURC students to hear about current research projects, ask questions, explore ideas and discover their inner researcher. 

young woman handling material near a 3D printing machine
A Will Rogers student experimenting in the 3D electrochemistry lab

The 12 various lab sessions offered included 3D printing of soft materials, virtual reality nursing training, biofuels and more.  

In the 3D printing lab, students learned about the development of a 3D printer for “squishy” or “soft” materials, such as inks, pastes, slurries and gels.  

In the virtual reality nursing training lab, they were introduced to software being developed by TU students from computer simulation, computer science and gaming backgrounds. This software is intended to be used to train future nurses. 

Another lab showcased at Discovery Day involved biofuels. These TURC participants study the use of genetic engineering to modify algae to produce biofuels, therapeutic proteins and nutraceuticals. They also develop strategies to grow algae in open ponds without getting contaminated by other microbes. 

Hands-on learning through community partnership

a person in a grey t-shirt wearing virtual reality goggles
A student using virtual reality equipment for nursing training

Vincent Facione, an advanced placement world history teacher at Will Rogers, attended Discovery Day alongside his students. “Many of our students have dreams of achieving a degree in the areas of research and science, but they just do not know where to begin the process of making their dreams become reality,” Facione said. “Providing them with opportunities to participate in hands-on activities and to watch the technological and scientific advances was a fantastic opportunity!” 

Melissa AbdoTrue Blue Neighbors’ program coordinator, arranged the event with Will Rogers teachers and students. “We are always excited to host high school students on campus, and Discovery Day was a great opportunity for these students to observe, ask questions and explore college-level research,” Abdo commented. “True Blue Neighbors has strong partnerships with our neighborhood schools, and we look forward to helping facilitate more opportunities like this in the future.” 

A small group of people standing in a room listening to a woman in a blue shirt speak
Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering Hema Ramsurn gives students instructions in the 3D lab

Find out more about True Blue Neighbors’ work connecting TU to our community!

’Cane Crowd 2020

Each fall for the past two years, The University of Tulsa has held an annual crowdfunding campaign called ’Cane Crowd. Its mission: to raise funds for projects that support TU students and the wider community. This year, the campaign will run from Monday, Nov. 30, to Friday, Dec. 4, including #GivingTuesday on Dec. 1.

Madison Cotherman, TU’s director of annual and affinity giving, is leading the 2020 ‘Cane Crowd campaign. According to Cotherman, ’Cane Crowd plays a distinctive role: “While most university fundraising efforts happen on a large scale, drawing attention and funds to entire colleges or scholarship endowments, ’Cane Crowd is an opportunity to highlight unique and timely projects happening at TU with smaller fundraising goals that are under $10,000.” Rather than focusing on larger projects, ’Cane Crowd seeks to help raise money for smaller initiatives.

Each year, the ’Cane Crowd organizers solicit project pitches from students, faculty and staff. All four projects selected for TU’s third ‘Cane Crowd attempt to address challenges facing TU students, while one of them also extends the university’s resources out into the community.

1921 Race Massacre Centennial Coalition

Two people standing outside the College of Law building with the words seeking justice superimposedThe first project is focused on supporting the work of the 1921 Race Massacre Centennial Coalition, a new entity in TU’s College of Law comprised of students, faculty and alumni. The Coalition’s mission is to mark the centennial of the tragedy with hope and action. Members hope to launch new programming, such as pop-up legal clinics in the Greenwood area and establish a scholarship endowment to foster diversity within TU Law.

This project’s fundraising goal is $10,000. The money will go toward programming costs, such as rent for the pop-up legal clinic locations. If the Coalition reaches its goal, loyal alumni and local law firms have agreed to match that. Those “challenge gift” funds would go toward the scholarship endowment. “I can think of no better way to honor the Greenwood Community and legacy of Black Wall Street than by hosting legal clinics and establishing a scholarship for a deserving TU Law student. Please join us and be a part of history,” said Dwain Midget (JD ’03), the Coalition’s chair.

TU Food Pantry

Carrots, corn and other vegetables in open tins with the words meeting needs superimposedThe second project is directed at establishing a TU Food Pantry, which is being launched on campus in late December or early January by True Blue Neighbors and Sharp Chapel. In a recent survey, 25% of participating TU students reported they had experienced food insecurity, and even more reported they could not afford to eat healthy and balanced meals. “Food insecurity on college campuses is a growing problem across the county,” said Melissa Abdo, the program coordinator for True Blue Neighbors and the lead on this project. “We are excited to partner on this TU Food Pantry project to provide fresh produce, proteins and pantry staples, ensuring our students have access to healthy food.”

The Food Pantry team’s fundraising goal is $5,000. If they reach that objective, those funds will help transform TU’s bike shop space into a welcoming and functional food pantry through the purchase of refrigerators and other necessary equipment.

Textbook Reserve Program

The third project aims to fund a new Textbook Reserve Program at TU. Everyone knows that textbooks can be expensive, but the ability to afford those prices should not inhibit a student’s success in the classroom. To help solve this challenge and work to expand resources, McFarlin Library plans to launch the Textbook Reserve Program to increase affordable student access to classroom material.

an open book in front of shelves of books with the words expanding resources superimposed“A donation to the Textbook Reserve Program would go directly toward purchasing a copy of all required undergraduate textbooks over $100,” remarked April Schweikhard, the director of library public services and the project’s lead. “Students would be able to check out their textbooks from McFarlin Library throughout the semester and have more access to the course materials they need to succeed.”

This project’s goal is $10,000. With those funds, the library would start acquiring all required undergraduate textbooks that cost more than $100. Students would then be able to check them out for a few hours at a time throughout the semester.

Virtual Reality for Nursing Education

In addition to the many challenges posed by the global pandemic, COVID-19 has also complicated how TU’s nursing students achieve their required clinical hours. The School of Nursing is looking to raise $5,300 to amplify its use of virtual reality (VR) technology. Additional VR equipment and software would allow current students to continue getting the skills training they need, even if remotely.

A woman wearing a virtual reality helmet and holding a virtual reality wand with the words embracing innovation superimposedA donation to the Virtual Reality for Nursing Education project would go directly toward purchasing equipment and software to begin engaging all students in this innovative teaching modality. Bill Buron, the director of the School of Nursing and the lead on this project, observed: “Expanded VR would provide students a safe and realistic simulated environment for engaging in clinical experiences that have been more limited in real life due to COVID-19. Because there is a severe shortage of nursing faculty nationwide and the average age of a nursing faculty is approaching 60, new and innovative teaching strategies are needed that may save faculty time while actively engaging students in learning and developing clinical and critical thinking skills in increasingly complex healthcare environments.” In addition, this project would kickstart collaborations between the TU School of Nursing and the Tandy School of Computer Science as the two units work together to develop new and engaging VR software to teach students particular clinical nursing skills.

Be part of ’Cane Crowd 2020! Learn more and pitch in from Nov. 30 to Dec. 4.

Telefonica and MediaPro debut 5G Augmented Tourism with AR bus windows

New AR windows on Barcelona bus inform tourists of key attractions as they pass. Telefonica and MediaPro debut 5G technology with AR bus windows.

This blog is a project of the NOVA Fellowship at TU.  


The NOVA Fellowship at The University of Tulsa (TU) has a mission to build and support the culture of innovation on campus and in our communities. We do this by providing small grants to help innovative student projects, faculty involved in innovative programs, and curating content related to current trends and recent developments in technology and innovation. This content includes topics relevant to the entire campus, including health sciences, economics, arts management, biology, computer science, finance, artificial intelligence (AI), communication, engineering, and global issues. Because NOVA students are studying in a variety of TU majors, our interdisciplinary approach to problem-solving is one of our great strengths.

NOVA also helps provide training to students and faculty in creativity, problem-solving, innovation, and entrepreneurship. We offer training on the TU campus in meetings and workshops, and through an exciting partnership with Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. Every year since 2015, NOVA has sent several TU students and faculty to Stanford for 4-5 days of training with experts and interaction with fellow scholars from around the world. The student program is University Innovation Fellows ( and the program for faculty is the Teaching and Learning Studio Faculty Workshop (

In these ways, NOVA exposes TU faculty, staff, and students to many processes and tools used in modern companies related to creativity, problem-solving, innovation, and entrepreneurship. One of these is “design thinking.” It is one of the most well-known problem-solving approaches used around the world today, used to develop concepts for new products, education, buildings, machines, toys, healthcare services, social enterprises, and more. According to the people who developed this tool, Dave Kelley and Tim Brown of the design firm, IDEO:

“Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success…. Thinking like a designer can transform the way organizations develop products, services, processes, and strategy. This approach, which IDEO calls design thinking, brings together what is desirable from a human point of view with what is technologically feasible and economically viable. It also allows people who aren’t trained as designers to use creative tools to address a vast range of challenges.” (

As the innovation field develops, new perspectives are emerging. One promising approach we are beginning to bring into NOVA meetings and workshops is called “systems thinking,” which builds upon the emergent field of complexity research. Systems thinking recognizes the inherent interactivity of the dynamic processes in our world and focuses on problem-solving with that complexity in mind. This approach isn’t completely new, but recent work has made systems thinking more accessible to people interested in solving problems of most any type. For example, Derek Cabrera, Ph.D. (Cornell University) has proposed a useful taxonomy designed to improve systems thinking called DSRP (Distinctions, Systems, Relationships, and Perspectives). He defines it as: “The recursive distinguishing of things and their interrelationships and part-whole organization from various perspectives” ( Elsewhere, DSRP has been described as a particular way to think about problems, and that the use of these four patterns notably improves people’s problem-solving abilities – demonstrated in sessions with Kindergartners all the way to CEOs. The complex, adaptive mental models that are formed during systems thinking attempt to identify the most approachable and simplest explanations for phenomena. In his book with Laura Cabrera, Systems Thinking Made Simple, examples of the simplicity that drives complexity include: the interaction of CMYK colors in our world, the amazing biodiversity derived from combinations of DNA’s core nucleotides ATCG, the fundamentals of martial arts which practitioners use together to improvise during sparring matches, the almost infinite variety of models that can be built with modular Lego blocks, and the billions of possible moves in a chess match with just 6 unique pieces.

We invite you to join us and collaborate as we learn more about effective ways to solve problems that you and others care about in the community, in corporations, and on campus! Please visit or email Dr. Charles M. Wood, Professor of Marketing at TU: