The Effectiveness of Infant Simulators

Article excerpt

Most training simulations sprang from theories that originated in psychology, sociology, or economics. Techniques vary from simple role-playing to elaborate computer models. Some simulations partially replace real-world events, while others create miniature, selective societal replicas. The most effective simulations model the precision and richness of reality by exposing participants to life-like events. Researchers generalize these theories by developing verbal descriptions of social interactions or mathematical representations of interacting agents (Bredeweg & Voss, 1992).

Simulations permit military personnel to practice tactics under conditions that replicate elaborate battleground conditions. Unfortunately, the use of reality-based simulators has been limited in American public schools. Few, if any, simulations available for public education approach the imagination of those created by the computer-game industry.

Gredler (1996) described the essential components of experiental simulations that emulate reality including: complex task that adapts to participant behavior; serious roles in which participants assume responsibility for scenario-required activities; multiple plausible paths through the experience; and participant control over decision-making. The infant simulator known as Baby-Think-It-Over (BTIO) is a good example of an experiental simulation because it is a nonlinear, psychological experience in which participants play a defined role with specific responsibilities within the evolving reality of parenthood. It is a fluid, dynamic case study with participants on the inside.

The infant simulator is a life-like model with different ethnic characteristics that is 21 inches long and weighs 6.5 to 7 pounds. It randomly displays infant behaviors by following the schedules of real infants. Students feed the infant with a bottle or breast feeding device, change diapers, and hold the infant while rocking or burping it. The infant's head falls back if it is not properly supported. If the infant is handled roughly, it cries and must be comforted until the crying stops. A computerized monitoring unit produces reports that document how well students cared for the infant. The report shows how many times the infant was neglected, handled roughly, and shaken, as well as how many times feeding, burping, rocking, or changing were required. Usually the infant is used as a device related to a public school health curriculum that includes child development and child care as major sections of the curriculum. Typically students care for the infant during a weekend that begins on Friday afternoon and ends on Monday morning.

BTIO is an intelligent simulation that assesses student behavior, diagnoses problem-solving performance, and remediates performance deficiences. Students who use the infant enter a structured, model-based reality in a setting designed to elicit specific, appropriate behaviors. As a training strategy, it allows students to practice effective behaviors and learn from errors.

Because BTIO is an unusually realistic, attractive device directed toward the serious social concern of unwanted teenage pregnancy, it has attracted the interest of researchers. Studies assessing the effectiveness of infant simulators are beginning to appear in the literature. However, studies to date have not included control groups nor have they included a structured, competency-based curriculum as part of the treatment. This study was designed to compare the impact of the simulator as an independent training tool with the use of the simulator in combination with a well-defined curriculum.

Simulators

The use of simulation as an effective training tool is well documented in the medical profession, space industry, armed services, and drivers' education. A study reported that human patient simulators (HPSs) were superior to animal models in teaching surgical procedures. Medical students strongly supported the use of human simulators in teaching advanced trauma life support programs (Block et al. …