Dr Ahmed Kadry and Simon Hull, who both work in the Department for Policing at The Open University (OU), have recently finished a project that evaluated OU policing apprentice's experiences of learning in a virtual reality (VR) courtroom.
The VR courtroom was initially developed by the OU's Open Justice Centre in partnership with Sheridan College in Ontario, Canada, to allow law students to engage in virtual mooting and develop courtroom presentation skills. The OU policing project, funded through the Faculty of Business and Law’s Scholarship Centre for Innovation in online Legal and Business Education (SCiLAB), aimed to identify whether the VR courtroom could be a useful learning tool in providing police officers the opportunity to practice giving evidence in court.
The five Police Constable Degree Apprentices (PCDA) ranged in experience as police officers and had differing previous experiences of giving evidence in court. They were provided with a fictional scenario that outlined an arrest of a person who was suspected of theft by shoplifting. The officers were then cross-examined in the VR courtroom by an OU law academic who acted as a defence advocate.
Each participant then took part in a semi-structured interview, giving feedback and comments regarding their learning experience.
The project findings show that using the VR courtroom was a valuable learning experience for the apprentices. They particularly gave feedback saying how immersed they felt in the courtroom, its benefit over the courtroom training that they had received in force and how the VR courtroom closely matched their real-life experiences of giving evidence in court.
One participant later fed back that they had subsequently given evidence in a real court for the first time. Despite being very anxious beforehand, they reported that the VR courtroom experience had greatly improved their confidence in court as they were familiar with the surroundings and felt better prepared to answer the advocate's questions that were put to them.
There are now plans to engage in an exciting pan-university scholarship project that will involve OU academics from not only policing but also law, social work and criminology, as well as from university product development departments. There are also further aspirations to develop teaching opportunities around the VR courtroom.