A new internal research project at Lethbridge College aims to test whether virtual reality can better prepare justice and corrections students for real-life encounters.

Currently students learn communication theory in a classroom setting then practice techniques on a simulator before trying out face-to-face interactions.

However, Chair of the college’s School of Justice Studies, Dave Maze, says when it comes to live actor scenarios, many students get nervous and freeze-up.

He says VR would allow students to practice their skills and get one step closer to being able to confidently interact with a live person.

Maze is teaming up with Digital Communications and Media instructor, George Gallant, to create two virtual reality scenarios – a domestic abuse situation and a traffic stop.

Gallant says “when you’re in VR, there is no peripheral, there is no outside of the screen – everywhere you look, you’re in the location so it feels like you’re in the actual experience.” He adds “when you’re in VR, and somebody’s yelling at you in VR, you feel it.”

The two instructors say they’ve already fielded inquiries from industry partners in policing and corrections who are interested in the technology and the findings of their year-long study.