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Virtual worlds used to promote health

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A nurse is urging colleagues to use social networking websites to deliver health-promotion messages after the success of a groundbreaking online seminar.

Barbara Hastings-Asatourian, senior lecturer at the University of Salford’s school of nursing and managing director of Contraception Education, last month broadcasted a live seminar on contraception on Second Life – an online, virtual-world website.

Using an avatar to represent herself, Ms Hastings-Asatourian hosted the lecture. It began with a questionnaire to assess its participants’ knowledge levels, then went on to detail different types of contraception.

‘Over the last 12 months, I’ve been looking at social networking sites as a way of getting through to young people,’ she said. ‘Far from just being a source of amusement for people, it offers a huge opportunity for education. The seminar was very useful. I learnt a lot about what people know about contraception.’

She also said the anonymity afforded by the site meant people were less hesitant about asking questions and expressing opinions. The number of visitors to the site increased by over 400% on the day of the talk.

Ms Hastings-Asatourian recommends the website to others who wish to use it for educational means.
‘Through my delivering that seminar, one of the other avatars that was present has invited me to their Second Life site as well,’ she said. ‘I think it will expand further. I’m very excited at the potential.’

It is not the first time that Ms Hastings-Asatourian has used unusual methods to communicate health messages. In the 1990s she developed a board game designed to promote better use of contraception.

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