Smith, Ticknor & Sitren

Virtual Reality in Criminal Justice: Exploring the Role of Emotion in Student Learning

Hayden P. Smith, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina
Bobbie Ticknor, Valdosta State University, Georgia
Alicia H. Sitren, University of North Florida, Jacksonville


The role of emotion in the context of virtual reality learning environments (VRLEs) has lately received increased attention, though there is a gap in the research on VRLEs in criminal justice. The current study examines the impact of a virtual reality experience that focuses on mental illness occurring in those within the criminal justice system. A qualitative methodology was employed to examine student responses from 242 students in five criminal justice classes taught in two states between 2019 and 2020. Three themes emerged from the students’ responses, including personal connections, empathy for others, and emotional responses to situational factors. Students experienced considerable presence and immersion during the virtual reality experience, and this generated emotional responses in them to the material. While the use of virtual reality in the pedagogy of social science is still emerging, the current study indicates that student can be provided a high degree of control and value in learning from the experience while simultaneously minimizing student exposure to risk. 

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