Purpose: To design and implement laboratory exercises for the education of radiation therapy and medical physics students using a low-risk virtual learning environment.
Methods: The VERT (Virtual Environment for Radiotherapy Training) facility (Vertual Ltd) at our institution is a virtual linac environment that can simulate accelerators from multiple vendors, including actual control pendants. Using the VERTâ€™s five physics modules, we have designed and implemented two laboratory sessions at our institution: one introduces radiation therapy students to physics tests and procedures they might not otherwise encounter in their education, and one introduces medical physics graduate students to linac QA, calibration and dosimetry. In both labs, QA tests are introduced and demonstrated, then students set up equipment (e.g., virtual water tanks, ionization chambers) and perform tests in the safe and low-risk virtual environment. Simulated errors are introduced in the system (e.g., machine output, laser positioning, radiation-light field coincidence) which would be difficult and risky on an actual linac. In addition to these exercises, we have used the VERT to create animations and other educational materials that can be accessed outside the facility.
Results: We successfully created and administered these lab sessions to one class of radiation therapy students and one class of medical physics graduate students. The students remained active and engaged throughout the lab sessions. The range of educational goals and physics understanding between the two groups highlights the diverse educational applications of the system. Additionally, animations and other educational materials we have created using the VERT have immense potential for applications such as distance learning, patient communication, and education in low- and middle-income countries.
Conclusion: A linac-based virtual learning environment such as the VERT can be a powerful educational tool for both hands-on exercises and for creating education materials that can reach far beyond the facility itself.