by George Nott

CIO50 2018 #26-50: Anthony Molinia, University of Newcastle

Nov 22, 2018
Technology Industry

Anthony Molinia
Credit: Anthony Molinia

If a midwife can’t identify the position of the placenta and lets the woman go into natural labour with the baby obstructed, the baby’s life is at serious risk.

“At the moment we teach with dolls and pelvises, and I can tell you firsthand from being a student as well as an educator, the position of the placenta is one of the hardest things to learn, and yet it’s absolutely one of the most imperative things to know,” says University of Newcastle lecturer in midwifery Donovan Jones.

Since earlier this year, students now have a new tool to help them understand the issue and learn how to deal with it.

Road to Birth is a virtual reality app which takes users on “a journey through pregnancy”, depicting a life-size female figure, whose gestation can be explored and observed, including crucial birth considerations like the baby’s orientation and placental positioning.

It is one of six immersive technology solutions for the university’s Faculty of Health and Medicine which has been developed and implemented over the last 18 months by the University of Newcastle IT Services team in close collaboration with educators.

The benefits of the tools are multitude.

“Simulation labs typically comprise of a physical lab space set-up to mirror a typical birthing suite of a hospital, with an attached control room to manage scenarios, using rubber sim-babies and a variety of medical equipment. These labs are timetabled at specific times of the semester around resourcing and are expensive to set-up and run and are limited by practitioner availability,” explains University of Newcastle chief information officer Anthony Molinia.

Now students benefit from “anytime/anywhere access” to the learning tools, which they can use to practice as many times as is required. That’s particularly useful given the relatively high levels of students from low socio-economic backgrounds who often have to work during lab hours.

There’s also the opportunity for the immersive experiences to be gamified to improve learning outcomes.

“There was also an unexpected emotional reaction at times to the VR simulations. This provided the teaching staff more effective and deeper insights – which can be utilised to help better emotionally prepare the students for the real world scenarios,” Molinia adds.

There have been knock-on effects too, such as a shift in thinking around the reliance on complicated timetabling given so much learning at the university happens out of hours and off campus. The roll-out has also generated commercial interest in the unique proposition.

Listen and collaborate

The immersive technology projects were undertaken with close collaboration between the faculty, students and IT, utilising human centred design and lean canvas techniques.

“This in itself was challenging given the need to focus on outcomes in a ‘time and cost box’ as well as taking an iterative approach to solution development…It led to standing up a bespoke ‘innovation space’ for open collaboration, design thinking and iterative testing and development,” Molinia explains.

The closer collaboration between IT and stakeholders is borne out of Molinia’s work over the last 24 months to “gain trust” from faculties and the university’s leadership team.

Molinia went on a ‘listening tour’ soon after joining the university “to understand what was working well, what wasn’t working well and what their key imperatives were for the future,” he says.

That listening continues today in the form of an IT Performance Dashboard which includes customer sentiment, and a ‘360 degree feedback channel’.

“In combination these actions increased our presence in the organisation, facilitated IT being included ‘at the table’ and provided us with the ability to have a voice from the ranks through to the leaders,” Molinia says, adding that the result is a roughly 40 per cent increase in IT investment over the next seven years.

And as the IT function has evolved into a trusted advisor and strategic partner to the university, within it has become more “cohesive and effective” department with a “positive, inclusive and fun culture”.

Keep your balance

Molinia says that the biggest lesson he has learned over his career as a CIO is to maintain balance and perspective.

“That is balance and perspective across everything, whether it be attention to innovation verses commodity; work verses fun; asking for permission verses asking for forgiveness; picking your battles verses fighting every one; or taking time to reflect and think verses trying to go too fast,” he says.

“It has provided me with an empathy and self-awareness that I believe is critical to be a good leader, motivator and mobiliser or innovation,” he adds.