SWOT Results Summary
Introduction :The FUNFORLAB (FFL) project, and its consortium of partners across the Meuse-Rhine Euregion (EMR), has the primary aim to develop an innovative, game-based learning tool formedical laboratory technology (MLT) education. This ‘FFL game’ will be primarily developed for: i) secondary school pupils following technical/science courses or with general interest in science, ii) MLT students in higher education (e.g. university college) and their respective teachers and iii) individuals across the EMR currently not in employment, education or training (NEETS). For secondary school pupils, the FFL game aims to contribute to career orientation and attracting them to the MLT profession. For higher education, the FLL game aims to close a growing gap between educational and professional reality, and to tackle the lack of awareness for career expectations that exists among students pursuing an MLT degree.
Methodology :In order to successfully develop and disseminate the FFL game, the consortium partners actively involved three target groups in the development of the FFL game: i) secondary school teachers and students; ii) school drop-outs and iii) MLT students and teachers. In order to tailor the FFL game specifically to the needs of these target groups, a SWOT analysis was carried out which provided essential input for developing two specific FFL game types: i) a FFL game which will have a point-and-click 3D game design and ii) a FFL game which will have a VR game design. To efficiently gather input from the target groups, a hybrid (= both physical and online) SWOT event was organized on the 23 rd of November 2022. During the SWOT event, all target groups were asked to provide individual input on statements dealing with MLT during hybrid SWOT sessions. These SWOT sessions were arranged per language region (Dutch, Flemish, German, Walloon (French and German) and an online KAHOOT session was constructed via which specific statements could be presented to both online and physical participants. The gathered data was analyzed and used to construct two SWOT matrices (see appendices 1 and 2) which summarize the shared input for the entire EMR and depict the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats that are common within the EMR region. Because of the ongoing COVID-related health-crisis, not all target groups (or a minimal capacity) could attend the FFL SWOT event. For that reason, each partner also attempted to contact specific target groups parallel to the SWOT event in order to gather further input.
Results :The SWOT matrices which were constructed by the FFL partners can be observed in the appendix. When looking at specific outcome for MLT education, mobility and profession, it was observed that both in secondary schools and university colleges, the information pupils and students receive on MLT education is almost absent and, if present, unspecific (= it does not really provide a realistic view on MLT profession). In addition, it became clear that in the competitive scientific/technical field, the profession of MLT is not seen as attractive looking at salary, personal flexibility and mobility. When looking at the results for the FFL game, it was observed that most participants could see an important role for the FFL game and community in creating awareness and improving MLT education. Most participants would like to see the game as being a digital ‘full experience’, in which patient cases should be provided to an MLT player from sample to diagnosis. It became apparent that two versions of the FFL game (point-and-click and VR) can provide specific strengths but also weaknesses. Specifically, it was seen as positive that the game formats can be focussed to a specific target group (point-and-click for secondary schools and VR for university colleges), but it should be taken into account that a VR game format has an effect on availability and playability of the game.
Conclusion :It has become apparent that the MLT profession is not known by secondary school students and the MLT profession gets almost no exposure in secondary schools across the EMR. It will be important to make the FFL game specifically tailored to tackle this problem without making it too ‘difficult or detailed’ for secondary school students. Surprisingly, although MLT students have already made a choice for their future profession, most MLT students also have no good perspective on their future profession. Finally, it has become clear that a part of the labor shortage and unattractiveness of the MLT profession can be accounted to a low salary, job flexibility and possibility for career development in comparison to other science-oriented professions, especially in industry/commerce. This is something the FFL project cannot control but surely has its impact on the current situation. Making cross-border mobility in the entire EMR region more easy and also aiming for cross-border training exchange and homogenization of MLT programs can have an important positive impact on this issue.
Considering the development of the FFL game, it became apparent that most participants in the FFL project are very enthusiastic about the FFL project and really see an important role for the FFL game in creating awareness and improving education. However, most participants do not want the game to be restricted to one or a few machines/automatons. Rather, it should provide the gamer with a professional ‘experience’, in this specific case from ‘patient to diagnosis’ with challenges and problems so that gamers are really immersed in their professional field and develop relevant skills. This advice, together with the fact that competitive games in this field have set a certain level of expectations, will create an important challenge that the consortium will have to overcome. Most target groups expect a certain amount of content depth, quality visuals, easy gameplay, competitive aspects, reward systems,… and it will be challenging to make the right choices in game development to make the FFL game a success. In addition, there is quite some heterogeneity in educational programs in the EMR but also in equipment used in laboratories across the EMR. It will therefore also be challenging to create gaming scenarios which fit for the entire EMR without lacking the necessary details to provide a relevant learning experience.
Outlook :In the remainder of the FFL project, a prototype of the FFL game will be developed in 2022 by the consortium partners using two gaming types (point-and-click and VR). The FFL game prototypes will eventually be shared and tested by the target groups in each region during the last phase of the FFL project (2022-2023). All target groups can provide feedback on the FFL game in order to develop it into an essential pedagogical and promotional tool for MLT education and profession. More information on the FFL project, its partners or its upcoming agenda, are available here on the project website.
Appendix 1: SWOT matrix for MLT education, mobility and profession
- Most students and professionals from all EMR regions agree that MLT students are still sufficiently prepared for taking the first steps in a medical laboratory, although there is a lack of specific lab equipment at schools
- In most EMR regions, MLT students and professionals do not find the job too complex/demanding since they retrospectively state to making a motivated and well-informed choice for the profession. (e.g. the interesting biomedical background and possibility to help patients are the primary motivations to choose for this education/profession)
- The MLT profession is typed as repetitive and non-repetitive by both MLT students and professionals at the same time. This is both a strength and a weakness for the profession. It should be advertised to students that the MLT profession can have specific focus/repetition or a big variety depending on what the Individual professional prefers.
- In most EMR regions, the MLT profession supports employees to develop in their profession. This can be in MLT seniority but also in related roles (ie.HR)
- Students from secondary schools or university colleges who find the education program or MLT profession to complex, boring or even repetitive mostly point to a lack of transparency / information on the MLT profession or have (unfounded) prejudices.
- Knowledge of specific and automated laboratory equipment is not optimal or absent due to lack of these automatons at school. This gap between education and profession is clearly confirmed and detrimental in the long run.
- MLT professionals state that there is considerable variation in the skills, knowledge and especially motivation of students. This is seen as a significant problem for professional success.
- There is little to no cross-border mobility between the EMR regions. This adds to the problems of personnel shortage in some EMR regions.
- The general career path and possibility of career development for an MLT professional is not known for MLT students.
- MLT professionals confirm that the possibility to promote and develop, although present, is limited in comparison to related technical professions in industry.
- MLT professionals state that salary is significantly lower than in industry. This has a negative effect on the attractiveness of the profession.
- More and better advertising in secondary schools is necessary to improve the orientation of secondary school students to provide them with a realistic view of what the MLT profession entails.
- More information/orientation is also needed for MLT students. This to debunk the current prejudices and provide honest and complete information on the pro’s and con’s of the MLT profession.
- The MLT profession has hidden benefits and these can be tailored much better to the ‘personality and preferences of the individual student. A tool/game to make a better match between the type of student and the MLT profession can assist students in making an educated choice for MLT.
- Improving or allowing easier cross-border mobility, training and professional cooperation can make the search for professionals easier and career perspectives higher.
- Providing information at secondary schools and MLT university colleges requires time/effort that MLT professionals and schools often lack. A strong cross-border community is needed to make this possible. The success of this community should be independent of subsiding and all parties involved should have a sense of urgency to make this a priority.
- If the variety in knowledge and skills of students is not balanced out, current problems to find enough suitable professionals will likely remain.
- Rigid laws will make improving cross-border mobility problematic. In addition, language barriers are seen as a big limitation in improving cross-border work.
- Low salary and an unattractive work-life balance can keep impeding with finding the best professionals for the future.
Appendix 2: SWOT matrix for FFL game
- All target groups (students, professionals and teachers) are enthusiastic about the FFL project and agree that a FFL serious game can be useful in both improving the quality of MLT education and creating positive awareness for the MLT profession.
- The FLL game adds an extra and innovative pedagogical approach for schools to use in their technical courses or specific MLT program.
- The development of multiple versions of the FFL game is seen as positive by all target groups, since it will allow better tailoring to their specific needs and wishes.
- A FFL game type based on VR is seen as Innovative and exciting.
- Competitive aspects (rewards, scores, challenges) embedded in the FFL game are seen as a positive addition for improving the motivation and cognitive development of students.
- Not every target group and region for that matter has shown an equally high priority for the FFL game and project.
- If game quality (visuals and playability) and also especially game depth/context (the game scenario) are not well developed, the game will likely not be played or accepted by the target groups.
- Students and teachers state that the game should always be accessible for students. For that reason, VR (and the necessary hardware to support VR gaming) is seen as a bottleneck by most EMR partners.
- Equipment/automatons between hospitals in the EMR regions differ, which will make focussing on a specific automaton and its detailed operation difficult. This will likely make the game less attractive for certain EMR regions depending on the choices which are made by the FFL consortium during game development.
- The FFL game should address whole case scenarios (from patient sample to diagnosis) to improve the entire skill-set of MLT students and to improve awareness of the MLT profession for secondary school students.
- Competition in the game/challenges is seen as positive and should be tailor-made for the specific target group (e.g. more fun aspects for secondary schools).
- The FFL game should not focus on stress-provoking situations (e.g. working with time-limits) but on relevant skills of the MLT profession (e.g. decision-making, the preciseness and accuracy of the work).
- The FFL game should start ‘easy’ with a tutorial providing more instruction-based working and develop into a more independent gaming experience based on problem solving and increasingly complex challenges.
- The FFL game should focus on providing insight into the specific workings of laboratory automatons which are not available to university colleges.
- Reward systems should be implemented in the game (e.g. machine-unlocking).
- Levels/challenges/cases should be relatively short and not take too long to finish.
- Updates and actualizations for the game are important to keep the game up-to-date with innovations: both external and internal content should be updated regularly.
- Beware that the FFL game does not replace real life education. They should go hand in hand and strengthen each other.
- Each target group asks for another game type. Game content, visuals and playability should be tailored to the specific audience. Management of expectations with target groups is important as requests and expectations are high. Time and resources are relatively limited.
- The popularity of gaming with adolescents sets high standards for visuals and depth of the FFL game to become and remain interesting for student target groups.
- The focus (game scenario’s) and easy availability of the FFL game is very important for all participants. Concerning focus the advice is not to focus the game on only one automaton or selective group of automatons.
- If the FFL game is to stressfull or should not cause stress.
- The game should not focus solely on the competitive aspect, but make it possible for the student to track his/her learning progress.