Cyber pharmacies and a virtual family of patients are revolutionising student learning at the University's Parkville campus.

Student pharmacists enter a large room filled with the sounds of a bustling pharmacy. Customers wander in and out, some wait for scripts to be filled; others seek advice on what medication to choose.

However this is not a pharmacy, it's one of two new virtual practice environments created by the Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. Video and still images of a pharmacy are projected onto a large continuous screen that wraps around several walls, immersing students in a virtual world of learning.

Role playing is an important part of learning to be a pharmacist, but until recently most students' first practical experience was in a traditional "model" community pharmacy set up on the campus.

Now the virtual pharmacy creates a space where students learn not only in a traditional setting, but soon in many other environments including a remote community service, a hospital setting and even a patient's home. Cameras record the student's role play, enabling valuable feedback to be provided on the effectiveness of their communication.

In another complementary development, students are being introduced to members of the Park family. Each family member, played by an actor, has a detailed medical case history and social background that students could face in the real world.

As students continue through their studies, they will follow the Parks' medical progress through images and videos in lectures and tutorials.

First and second-year students will work with the Parks through a web-based video program. In third year, students will meet interactive, digital versions of some Park family members. These "virtual patients" will respond to the student's questions, enabling them to further develop their consultation skills.

Bachelor of Pharmacy course director Associate Professor Jennifer Marriott said the projects brought learning to life and provided students with a tangible, visible reference to subject matter.

"They're not designed to replace real practical experience but they do allow students to be better prepared to deal with real people much earlier in their academic careers," Associate Professor Marriott said.

Visit the ePharm website for more information.