Virtual, or is it now reality?

by Simon Hull, Lecturer in Work Based Learning at The Open University

A.I. In just a year or two, these two letters have found their way into our everyday conversations about just about anything, be it technical, personal or professional. Some people embrace the idea of machines leading on many aspects of our daily lives and others fear that unless it’s harnessed more tightly that we could all rapidly end up in a bit of a technology enhanced global pickle.

With all this recent chat about AI, I find myself asking what happened to all the talk another new technology that was widely discussed just a year or two ago; the metaverse.

A couple of years ago, there was a lot of excited talk around the metaverse being the future of the internet in the post-pandemic world that we were adjusting to. This was a time when we were seriously considering a life where human contact was not a given in day-to-day society. But now we find ourselves moving on. Workplaces, socialising and communities  are gradually returning to pre-2020 norms, and with it a move away from contemplating living our lives entirely through a screen.

But the metaverse hasn’t simply disappeared. It could be considered more likely that we’re becoming accustomed to the presence of augmented and virtual reality in our lives. Perhaps we no longer fear the presence of online worlds and accept they have a place in society alongside our real-world lives, as will likely happen with AI once we understand it more on a cultural level. From my work in higher education and policing, I see a small but significant shift towards the acceptance of VR, that it has a place in educating the police and is not just another shiny new thing to be wowed by.

There are many features found in virtual reality technology that could prove to be useful for educational purposes (Allcoat and von Mühlenen, 2018). This is true of police training and education and there appears to be scope to explore how VR can be used to properly prepare our police officers and staff for the challenges of operational duty. Reducing risk, improving on abstraction demands, immersion, learning by doing, interaction and collaboration can all be addressed by VR. In our recent scholarship study that that explored the application of the VR courtroom to police education, my OU policing colleague Ahmed Kadry and I found that the PC’s who participated in the study discovered that the OU’s VR courtroom provided a valuable learning experience. One mentioned that the immersive experience closely matched that of giving evidence in a real court. Others commented that time in the VR courtroom helped them feel better prepared for the potential rigours of appearing in a criminal court as a witness.

This was precisely what we hoped we would find, but it has also raised questions around the way we utilise VR in police education.

There are of course limitations when using VR to educate, one being that learners should be familiar with a virtual space so as to reduce it to being a mere novelty (Sigurvinsdottir et al, 2023). There is an argument that VR needs to be properly integrated into curriculums (Hurwitz, 2024), so that it is evident throughout a policing learner’s educational journey. If VR is used infrequently there will be not only a danger of it being seen as a novelty, and then played with accordingly, but it will also be harder for the police and HE providers to justify its suitability or value as a learning tool.

By integrating VR and assessing its usefulness, police educators may quickly find that it has a place supporting authentic police learning alongside real world applications, but not replacing them.

 

References

Allcoat, D. and von Mühlenen, A. (2018). ‘Learning in virtual reality: Effects on performance, emotion and engagement’, Research in Learning Technology. 26, pp. 1-13. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.25304/rlt.v26.2140 (Accessed: 3rd May 2024).

Hurwitz, S. (2024) ‘How Virtual Reality Fits Into Blended Learning At Work’, Forbes, 29th April 2024. Available at: How Virtual Reality Fits Into Blended Learning At Work (forbes.com) (Accessed: 3rd May 2024).

Sigurvinsdottir, R., Skúladóttir, H., Antonsdóttir, H. F., Cardenas, P., Georgsdóttir, M. T., Írisardóttir Þórisdóttir, M., Jónsdóttir, E. K., Konop, M., Valdimarsdóttir, H. B., Vilhjálmsson, H. H., & Ásgeirsdóttir, B. B. (2024) A Virtual Reality Courtroom for Survivors of Sexual Violence: A Mixed-Method Pilot Study on Application Possibilities. Violence Against Women, 30(1), pp. 249-274. Available at: https://doi-org.libezproxy.open.ac.uk/10.1177/10778012231205589 (Accessed: 3rd May 2024).

 

The Police Education Qualification Framework: What do we know and where is it going?

by Dr Emma Williams, Director of Research and Strategic Partnerships, The Centre for Policing Research and Learning (CPRL) at The Open University and Jennifer Norman, Head of Policing Organisation and Practice at The Open University.

The Police Education Qualification Framework (AKA degree gate) remains a contentious subject. Recent commentary around the ‘degree debate’ was triggered by the Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s request in November 2022 for the College of Policing (CoP) to consider a fourth ‘non-degree’ route for new police recruits. This blog isn’t intended to provide an opinion on what a fourth route should look like, or in fact whether there should be a change. What we will do here is reflect on our involvement in the police education, research and learning sphere over several years. We’ve worked in operational and strategic policing environments as researchers. We have spent a large part of our careers as policing academics delivering policing degrees to serving officers/staff and conducted several research projects related to the theme of professionalisation in policing. It is this that the PEQF originally sought to achieve.

Some of the criticisms of the PEQF relate to the academic nature of the degree level entry and the lack of relevance to operational roles. We would argue, having taught serving police officers, that the theoretical understanding from policing research and scholarship, combined with the practical experience of officers working in the field is where the learning really happens.

Some of the themes covered in the PEQF curriculum provide the reasons and justifications for why elements of police work are so essential. For example, the role of community police officers, community engagement and the impact this has on police legitimacy, trust, and confidence. In addition, police officers often encounter individuals that present a number of complex issues related to vulnerability. The input of certain academic evidence can help officers structure the way they engage with these members of the community in inclusive and fair ways. Therefore, the key to making academic knowledge relevant, is to situate it in the context of what the police know and do every day.

Sometimes these positive aspects of the PEQF get lost in binary conversations and considerations about what academic level police education should be. Additionally, at a time when policing is trying to be more efficient and effective, focusing on what learning, education and research can bring to policing in positive way, can facilitate more objective discussions about the role of education in policing.

Themes that have arisen from the work we’ve done

Professionalism is linked to knowledge and officers feeling empowered, able and equipped to do their job. Research indicates that officers feel their decision-making is enhanced from the knowledge input, it can make them feel more confident to problem solve with partner agencies, and those with degree level education have an increased sense of professionalism.

Research conducted in specialist areas of the police also shows links to welfare, personal efficacy, and personal accomplishment in the role. Similarly with new recruits, national surveys demonstrate that those who have completed the PEQF feel more equipped to do their role compared to those cohorts of trainees who have completed the Initial Police Learning and Development Programme (IPLDP).

One of the distinct differences between the IPLDP and the PEQF is the level of learning delivered. The IPLDP requires officers to demonstrate their ability to ‘follow instructions’ at level 3. The PEQF develops officers’ skills at level 6, to think critically about problems they face and encourages them to use innovative practices beyond following instructions. Given the diverse landscape within which policing operates, it is essential that officers have the scope to move beyond a template version of policing practice and deliver context led policing which recognises difference and individual needs.

We have also recognised from a phased project we have undertaken for the Uplift Programme, that the support on the ground for both the new recruits and those constables who tutor them is inconsistent, can lack strategic support and vision, and often the tutors are not given the development they need to be effective in post. The learning time expected from organisations is often not guaranteed, which causes tension between officers trying to complete their academic study and the organisational need for them to be operational. Additionally, the research has found repetition in assessment processes which can cause frustration and confusion about where to prioritise their time. National surveys have found that this burden can have negative implications for the wellbeing of apprentices.

The original aim of the PEQF was intended to include supporting professional training and education for serving officers and police staff through the process of the recognition of prior experiential learning (RPEL). In our opinion, this work remains undeveloped at this time but is crucial for equity and accessibility to continued professional development (CPD). Furthermore, if forces are given the allowance to decide whether they run the PEQF locally, or remain with the IPLDP there is a risk that a two-tiered police service will prevail. Placing the learning entirely back to local delivery is likely to put significant strain on learning and development departments and limits both serving officers and staffs CPD. Furthermore, it will compromise the specialist courses required in some areas of policing such as investigating rape and sexual offences. Working with HEIs in a truly collaborative way with the police has been identified in some PEQF partnerships. These approaches should be harnessed and rather than focusing on the negative aspect of this field, the good practices in operation should be shared and developed further.

Ultimately, whilst the findings of this research and other pieces of work have been conflated here, we hope that they feed into ways forward for improving the police education landscape for both the individual officers and the police organisations themselves.

It seems ironic that we operate in an environment that puts onus on evidence led practice, efficiency, and the correct deployment of resources and yet with reference to the Home Secretary’s announcement, it seems equipping officers with the skills to understand research and evidence and how to apply it in practice is being undermined. Developing the skills needed to draw on different forms of knowledge from research and other formal / informal sources arguably aids the ability to think widely and objectively about different problems. After all policing is about people. It is about risk and harm. If we don’t equip officers with this kind of knowledge from the start, we maybe doing them a disservice when they are on the frontline.

Equipping officers to make women safer from Rape and Serious Sexual Offences (RASSO) – insights from Operation Soteria Bluestone

Dr Emma Williams, Dr Linda Maguire, Dr Arun Sondhi and Richard Harding, The Open University, Centre for Policing Research and Learning. Operation Soteria Bluestone team, Pillar 4

Welcome to the fifth and final (but no means least) blog in this special series celebrating International Women’s Day.  Today’s blog shares important insights about the ground-breaking project currently underway to transform the police response to Rape and Serious Sexual Offences.

Investigating Rape and Serious Sexual Offences (RASSO) is complex and is one of the most challenging aspects of violence against women and girls for the criminal justice system. It requires specialist knowledge input and officers who are confident in their roles to undertake this task. The complexity arises partly from the fact that many of the victims of these offences often have many vulnerabilities. This means that many RASSO victims are far removed from the notion of an ‘ideal victim’ and it is often these factors that impact on their receiving a fair process. Hence, women with the most serious vulnerabilities and likely to be targeted and groomed by perpetrators and as a result, are also those most at risk of their cases resulting in attrition.

Further complexity arises from the fact that many investigations involve difficult interpersonal relationships, where there are often no independent witnesses, and where victim accounts and behaviours can be misinterpreted through many false lenses, including misogyny, homophobia, myth and misconception, and ignorance of the effects of trauma. All of these factors require investigators to have specialist and expert knowledge. They should have completed appropriate learning and development opportunities to enable them to have the knowledge, attitudes and skills to understand and effectively engage with the complexities of RASSO investigation and the related trauma.

Operation Soteria Bluestone is a UK Home Office-funded programme designed to improve the investigation of RASSO in England and Wales. Our findings confirm the systemic challenges that police services are facing in trying to manage the demand for RASSO investigation.  In our review of learning provision and officer welfare we found that investigators, at all levels, are aware of the impacts of cases being allocated to officers with, often, limited experience or learning. Where experienced investigators were available, particularly in supervisory roles, they often had limited knowledge refresh since their initial courses and were sometimes struggling to support less experienced colleagues whilst managing their own caseloads.  Collectively we heard investigators express their frustration at wanting to fulfil their mission to solve crime, bring perpetrators to justice and do the right thing for victims, whilst working in an environment that made achieving those goals increasingly challenging. Morally this presents huge challenges for officers involved in investigating this crime type.

Part of our approach was to explore the relationship some of these issues may have with the concept of occupational burnout. The notion of burnout is well established in policing. Over recent years it has been considered to be increasingly prevalent as a result of austerity measures and changing operational demands. Factors relevant to RASSO investigations also include the increased requirements for processing and investigating digital evidence, the need to provide a victim-orientated service alongside the changing relationship with the Crown Prosecution Service, which has all added to an increased workload for officers.

Factors encompassing burnout include exhaustion, feelings of negativity or cynicism and reduced levels of personal accomplishment. People who are emotionally exhausted tend to feel over-extended and physically drained. Cynicism can manifest itself in greater detachment or depersonalisation from victims, with feelings that officers have achieved little success at work. Symptoms of burnout tend to report physical and mental exhaustion and reduced ability to care for the victims with which they work, leaving a sentiment that their work makes little difference. Despite the prevalence of burnout symptoms, police officers are unlikely to seek help or support within their organization or externally for professional treatment due to fear of stigma or loss of job role.

Our work on Operation Soteria Bluestone has explored the learning, development and wellbeing climate for officers investigating RASSO. A key finding is that predictors are not specific to a single police force, but common to all forces. The findings suggest the importance of the wider organisation in influencing emotional exhaustion and depersonalisation. The causes of burnout are consistent with the literature on policing including perceptions of workload, large caseloads and the detrimental perceived effect on an officer’s work-life balance. We identified high levels of stress and ill-health, alongside pressures to come to work despite being unwell. Whilst those involved in the management and investigation of RASSO cases are exposed to vicarious trauma through their work with victims, they have additional and varying degrees of trauma through the organisational process itself.

In addition, the high number of caseloads places a burden on the learning climate, reducing the time that officers have to receive specialist training to do their job. We believe that if officers are equipped with the proper resources and specialist training, they will be empowered to do their job and this will impact positively on their wellbeing.  If these resources are low and demand is high, as our findings suggest, burnout can occur. Therefore, the knowledge to date from the work on Soteria Bluestone offer really important insights into the relationship between the police organisations’ commitment to enabling their staff to deliver professional police investigations in the context of RASSO. The connection between officer competence and confidence and the provision and ability to access learning, to support their development and officer wellbeing, is vital.

With a new National Operating Model for investigating RASSO in development for implementation, police organisations will be better prepared to improve the current situation for their workforces. Organisational change is needed to really enable, involve and equip officers, not only to enhance their own wellbeing, but ultimately to improve outcomes for victims. As a research team we are excited to be working with forces and helping them to prepare for managing the provision of specialist learning, development and wellbeing support RASSO officers, to enable policing to make transformational change in this crucial area of justice.

 

Concluding remarks

Thank you for reading our blog posts this month.  As you can see, here at OU Policing we are committed to conducting research about issues that affect the lives of women.  The project we have shared this month are underpinned by a desire to improve women’s lives – be that through the criminal justice response to domestic abuse and rape, girls experiences of criminal exploitation, or women’s experiences as mothers in the police.  If you would like to know more about our work, or you would like to work with us, please don’t hesitate to contact us at OUPC@open.ac.uk

When Girls ‘Go Country’: Criminal exploitation of younger women and girls

By Dr Shona Morrison of The Open University and Daryl Baguley of the Diane Modahl Sporting Foundation.

Welcome to the fourth blog in our month-long series in celebration of International Women’s Day.  Today’s blog seeks to highlight a lesser-known form of violence against young women and girls – exploitation of vulnerable girls in the context of drug dealing and organised crime groups, known in the UK as ‘County Lines’ drug dealing.

The emergence of ‘County Lines’

In the past decade, infamous cases of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) and grooming in areas like Rotherham, Rochdale, and Oxford, highlighted the range of environments outside of the home which can lead to younger females falling victim to groups of (mainly older) men.  Now a new threat is emerging.  There is growing evidence of young women and girls being exploited through ‘County Lines’ drug dealing leading to the risk of physical and sexual violence.  The County Lines model involves organised crime gangs based mainly in cities grooming children and other vulnerable people to carry out activities in support of their drug dealing operations.  Young people are encouraged to travel to provincial coastal, or rural, areas to deliver and sell drugs, often staying in so-called ’safe-houses’, posing considerable risk to their immediate and long-term physical and mental health.

Until recently, the focus on exploitation through County Lines has been mainly on young men and boys, however, there is growing evidence that girls are being increasingly targeted and subjected to additional forms of harm.

The role of girls in gangs and County Lines

The role of females in criminal activity which is traditionally seen as the preserve of males has been largely under-researched.  Research on young women and girls is in even shorter supply.  Although there is some research on girls’ involvement in street gangs, for instance, the literature remains dominated by research on young males.  In the context of County Lines, early research did identity exploitation of females on the periphery of the industry.  For instance, there were cases of young girls forced to attend parties in safe houses where they were expected to provide sexual rewards to young male ‘runners’.  Video footage taken at these events may then be used to blackmail and further intimidate the young females into silence.

However, more recent research implies that young females are beginning to replace males as the ‘foot soldiers’ of County Lines.  The relative ‘invisibility’ of girls and young women allows them the travel largely unnoticed on rail networks across the country, making them ideal targets for drug dealing gangs.  Some researchers compare the grooming of young girls into county lines drug dealing, and the strategies subsequently used to maintain control over them, as akin to ‘coercive control’ – a phrase more commonly found in the domestic abuse literature to describe a pattern of behaviour where someone exerts power over their partner through fear and control.

The 2018 publication of the Government’s Serious Violence Strategy (Home Office – Serious Violence Strategy, April 2018 (publishing.service.gov.uk) marked the beginning of efforts to intervene in the harm caused by County Lines, although it was recognised at that time that most of the violence was by males against males.  Programmes aimed at young females at risk of county lines have been a lower priority and, subsequently, slower to develop.  Preventing this form of abuse against girls must become a higher priority within education and other sectors before girls ‘going country’ becomes the latest exploitation scandal of the 21st Century.

 

We Move – A mentoring project for young people at risk of violence and child criminal exploitation

Dr Shona Morrison from The Open University is conducting an evaluation of a mentoring programme aimed at young males and females considered to be at risk of violence or exploitation by organised crime groups.  The programme, named ‘WeMove’, is funded by Greater Manchester Police and delivered by two organisations in the Greater Manchester area.  Daryl Baguley is one of the programme coordinators delivering WeMove, through the Diane Modahl Sporting Foundation (DMSF) (Home – dmsf.org.uk).  DMSF work with young people across areas of deprivation, empowering them to fulfil their potential.

Daryl has implemented a unique approach to supporting girls referred to WeMove to reduce their vulnerability to criminal exploitation.  Due to the number of mentoring referrals received through one school, Daryl and her team set up a ‘girls group’ which comes together once a week to talk and learn important life skills which empower them to have the confidence to say ‘no’.  Daryl is convinced of the importance of gender-specific approaches to dealing with youth violence.  Girls, she says, need a ‘safe space’ to talk and seek advice about issues of importance to them: “The stories that come from the girls can be frightening. They would share stories about being used by their boyfriends to transport items for them because they know they are less likely to get stopped, not recognising any of the dangers this carries for themselves or the manipulation which had been used over them.”  Daryl believes their issues often come down to lack of knowledge about healthy relationships, low self-esteem and confidence.  She says, “It is clear the girls do not always understand consent and didn’t recognise the signs of coercive and controlling behaviour, leaving them in danger of criminal exploitation, sexual exploitation and trauma”.

With both mentoring and financial support from WeMove, the girls decide on suitable topics and activities for the group.  So far, they have requested sessions on body positivity, Andrew Tate, racism, social media awareness, positive relationships, consent, gang awareness and bullying.  Some have also chosen to undertake First Aid or beauty industry qualifications, while others are themselves working towards gaining peer mentoring qualifications.  Daryl highlights the reciprocal nature of the girls group saying “The conversations we have with the girls are invaluable.  The girls give us a real insight into the challenges and barriers our girls are facing daily.  We have seen an improvement in school attendance and drop in after-school detentions.  The feedback we have had from parents and the school has been extremely positive.  Girls have also left abusive relationships and have started to realise their own worth.  The transformations have been amazing to see.”

For further information about the WeMove programme, or the Open University’s Evaluation of programme, please contact Dr Shona Morrison or Daryl-Anne Baguley 

The Motherhood Penalty: Evidence of maternal bias in the workplace and why policing needs to do more.  

by Kendal Wright and Dr Keely Duddin, Policing Organisation and Practice, The Open University

photo by https://pregnantthenscrewed.com/

“Before Breaking The Glass Ceiling, Women Must Climb The Maternal Wall” 

Mary Ferrante

Welcome to the third blog in this special series celebrating International Women’s Day.  Todays post shares an insight into a ground-breaking study exploring women’s experiences of motherhood in the police.

Last summer our research team pressed the ‘go live’ button on our pregnancy and maternity experiences survey, what happened next took us beyond our expectations. Within a two-month period we had almost 6000 responses, and over 9000 free text responses.  We believe this survey to be largest piece of research to have ever been conducted on this topic in policing, and in the public sector in the UK.

As we watched the responses continue to grow, it hit home how important this research is to so many people and how much progress we still need to make. It was a humbling experience to see the time and effort participants took to communicate their stories and we had many people comment on how cathartic the process was in enabling them to voice their experiences.

Maternal bias background

Research around maternal bias is gaining traction and research shows real evidence of a level of maternal bias in organisations, where some colleagues can view mothers, – or pregnant women as less competent and less committed to their jobs (Arena et al, 2023). Further research (Ogden, 2019) has suggested that working mothers can face a specific type of bias named ‘maternal wall bias’, which can manifest itself in different ways, for example in conducting performance evaluations or for taking on challenging assignments or promotion opportunities because of their assumed lack of time and desire (Ogden, 2019). In a milestone study, Correll and colleagues (2007) found evidence for a ‘motherhood penalty’ which demonstrated that working mothers were only recommended 47% of the time for hire, vs 84% of female applicants who didn’t have children and were penalised on a host of measures, including perceived competence. Furthermore, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (2018) found that a third of employers felt that women who become pregnant and new mothers in work are ‘generally less interested’ in career progression, when compared to other employees in their company.

What the survey tells us

As we started to analyse the results, we found 29.2% of free-text responses contained an element of mothers experiencing maternal bias.  Take that into consideration of how many free text responses were received, that’s almost 3000 responses where a mother has felt bias towards her as an individual in the workplace since announcing their pregnancy or returning from maternity leave.

“I was told during my last pregnancy that if I wanted a promotion I would need to “stop getting pregnant”. This was after the loss of my first pregnancy after joining the force”.

Police staff/ Practitioner/ Last period of maternity 2-3 years ago

“Told not to consider promotion until I was no longer a flexible worker”

Police Officer/ Sgt/ Last period of maternity 5+ years ago

“I think regardless of how supportive supervisors and colleagues are – a new mother is never considered for promotions etc. You are almost seen as a liability because you take care of a young child. They would prefer single workers who do not have other responsibilities. It’s not an open culture but definitely exists.”

Police staff/ Practitioner/ Last period of maternity 1-2 years ago

“Better support needed on return from maternity leave and balancing new responsibilities with work responsibilities.  Also, action is needed on unconscious bias where managers assume that you want to focus solely on your children and are not interested in development anymore.”

Police Officer/ Inspector/ Last period of maternity 1-2 years ago

Why it’s important

It’s an evolutionary fact that a large number of employed women will go on to have at least one period of maternity leave during their career. However, there has been little police-based research published recently around officers and staff returning to the workplace after maternity leave.

Historically where police organisations have been male-dominated places of work, organisations now actively promote recruitment drives with one of the aims to diversify the workplace to suit the communities they serve, including increasing the number of female officers recruited. This concerted effort has led to the number of female officers in UK police forces increasing to over 50,000 (Gov.uk 2022). Charman & Tyson (2022) carried out research examining the stark increase of voluntary resignations, some of those reasons cited included the lack of visibility of flexible working mothers in senior roles. Findings in our research support the notion that police organisations must transform working practices around embracing and supporting motherhood if they wish to retain their much longed-for and much-needed diversified workforce.

Let’s not continue to make assumptions on a mother’s behalf about their ambition and commitment to the role just because they had a baby.  What a mother doesn’t learn about time management, multi-tasking, patience, and negotiation when dealing with a teething baby isn’t worth knowing.

Policing for the future needs to embrace working mothers and put an end to the maternal bias they may face as they return to work, regardless of their aspirations. “Have a heart, remember we (mothers) are as much value to the organisation as others…” (Participant 132). Mothers should feel supported and valued by their organisations and policing as a career shouldn’t result in the “motherhood penalty”.

If you would like to know more about this research, please contact us at

Kendal.wright@open.ac.uk

Keely.Duddin@open.ac.uk

Facing the future: Police learning in the metaverse

Image

by Simon Hull, Lecturer in Work Based Learning at The Open University

There’s always a lot of hype surrounding new technology, how it will work and evolve and often accompanied by claims as to how it will improve our lives. But one vision of our digital future has received increasing exposure in the popular press in recent times that doesn’t yet appear to be fading away: the metaverse.

I’m intrigued by the metaverse. I’ve long since had an interest with virtual reality (VR) and its application to learning in work-based settings, not least operational policing. Indeed, The Open University has made great strides into teaching with VR through the Open Justice court room application, in which learners can explore a court building and learn about how it functions. But the metaverse takes VR several steps further, potentially opening up new avenues for immersive police education and training.

Whilst many people may be new to the term, the metaverse is not a new concept. The idea was first introduced by author Neal Stephenson in his 1992 sci-fi novel called Snow Crash. Stephenson envisaged a digital 3D world called the Metaverse that runs parallel to our own and where its real-life users have avatars that carry out their day-to-day lives in virtual reality. More recently, Ernest Cline’s novel (and subsequent Steven Spielberg movie) Ready Player One depicted a type of metaverse in which society worked, studied and played. The term then gained publicity in 2021 when Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg revealed that the company was being renamed Meta and would focus upon building ‘3D spaces in the metaverse will let you socialize, learn, collaborate and play’ (Meta, no date).

Academic discussion around the implications for using the metaverse in education is not a new concept (Tlili et al., 2022) and there have been many attempts to define what the metaverse is. Mystakidis (2022, pp. 486) defines it as ‘the post-reality universe, a perpetual and persistent multiuser environment merging physical reality with digital virtuality. It is based on the convergence of technologies that enable multisensory interactions with virtual environments, digital objects and people such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR)’.

This is quite a mouthful, but many people will be drawn to the idea of existing in a shared virtual world where they can live and work together, building communities that thrive and challenge us just as any other does.

As Mystakidis suggests, the metaverse isn’t really one technology. In 2006, a research body called the Acceleration Studies Foundation (ASF), set out a roadmap in which 4 types of metaverse were conceived, combining real life and virtual reality.

• Augmented Reality can be seen in games such as Pokemon Go and head-up displays (HUD) found in some cars

• Lifelogging, where people capture and share aspects of their daily life through technology is ubiquitous via applications such as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook and also through wearable technology like the Apple Watch

• Mirror Worlds such as Google Maps and Google Earth reflect the real world but add in additional layers of information

• Virtual Reality can be seen in cases including Roblox and Minecraft (Kye et al, 2021).

Howell (2022) links these four concepts to how the metaverse could be used in education, picking out VR as being a crucial aspect in the application of the metaverse in educational settings and it’s VR that many people picture when they think of the metaverse.

It’s also with VR that my own intrigue around how the metaverse could be utilised in police learning is tweaked. VR already allows people to train in unfamiliar environments, becoming proficient in using tools and dealing with situations that may be dangerous, complicated or costly in real-life (think surgeons performing a life-saving operation or firefighters searching a blazing building). The metaverse takes this concept and allows multiple users to exist and collaborate in the same VR world.

I wonder, could this approach be applied to policing?

Communication is a key aspect of policing, not least amongst internal staff. By training together in the metaverse, greater understanding could be achieved and collaborative methods explored, accelerating learning opportunities and providing rich educational environments. For example, rather than training individuals to secure and investigate a crime scene, real-world mimicking simulations could be created in which response officers attend, talk to victims and witnesses, integrate and work with colleagues from specialist units and brief supervisors of their actions. They can also build knowledge as well as skills, learning about the forensic qualities of different materials and objects as they encounter them. Team de-briefings can be held and the scenario could be carried through the full investigation cycle, ending up presenting evidence in court.

Other potential uses could include where police officers and staff  practice conversations that they may undertake in the workplace that are relatively infrequent but that have very high-stakes when they do, such as delivering a death message, talking to a victim of domestic abuse or conducting a disclosure briefing to a  defence solicitor in a custody suite. Learners could learn about psychology and criminology as they walk through crime case studies. Metaverse technology will give a safe space to acquire knowledge, practice skills and discuss the outcomes with colleagues, delivered efficiently without the need for lengthy abstractions from duties.

Of course, there are significant challenges attached to the development of the metaverse and its application to education. Data security, regulation (who will police the metaverse? That’s another question), inequality in access to educational opportunities, and costs (headsets and software development are expensive) (Davis, 2022) are all relevant and could lead to a less than enthusiastic take-up by the public services.

The effect on learners’ mental health through being detached from the real world should not be overlooked. In the metaverse, people can present themselves as they wish to be seen, rather than how they actually are, and lines between the virtual and real worlds may become blurred (Kye et al, 2021). Protecting the welfare of learners will therefore become increasingly valid as opportunities to exist in the metaverse increase.

So, is the metaverse a fad or is it really the next big thing in online technology? Meta are by no means the only company to be investing in this brave new world. Gaming company Roblox already has a significant foothold in the metaverse and Microsoft and Fortnite, amongst others, are developing the technology. The metaverse has the potential to impact upon all of our lives; whether it does so in police learning, virtually or in reality, remains to be seen.

References

Davis, L (2022). How the Metaverse Is Shaping the Future of Education. Available at: https://metapress.com/how-the-metaverse-is-shaping-the-future-of-education/. (Accessed: 6 May 2022).

Howell, J. (2022) Metaverse For Education – How Will The Metaverse Change Education?. Available at: https://101blockchains.com/metaverse-for-education/ (Accessed: 6 May 2022).

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