Students create immersive videos to enhance criminal justice courses

Three students set up 360-degree camera equipment

Students in the course CRIMJ 210: Policing in America set up 360-degree camera equipment to prepare for filming crime-scene scenarios.

Credit: Kathryn Quinn/Penn State Berks

Immersive technologies such as 360-degree videos could revolutionize the future of forensic science, giving police and criminologists a tool to visualize different crime scenes and ultimately, become better investigators. Through a Berks Teaching & Learning Innovation Partnership Grant, Penn State Berks students in the course CRIMJ 210: Policing in America are learning to create 360-degree videos of crime-scene scenarios.

These videos are viewed by their peers in CRIMJ 100: Introduction to Criminal Justice to learn about topics such as self-defense, defense of others, and defense of property.

“The project transforms student learning on two levels: It allows students to engage in creative collaboration related to a course topic, and students get to ‘experience’ the scenarios presented by the 360-degree videos created by their peers,” said Mary Ann Mengel, an instructional multimedia designer for Penn State Berks’ Center for Learning & Teaching.

During the fall 2018 semester, students were separated into five teams to research their chosen topic, brainstorm ideas for a storyboard, create the dialogue, assemble props, and select locations to film. Like good police work, careful research and attention are required to recreate crime-scene scenarios that accurately represent the characters, props, settings and timing of events.

Due to the limited examples of 360-degree storyboards, Mengel designed a template for students to visualize how their scenes would play out through the 360-degree camera. The camera’s vantage point positions the viewer within the scene, and the viewer can focus his or her attention in any direction. By design, minimal video editing is required.

"This should be the standard,” said Deb Dreisbach, lecturer in criminal justice. “I'm always thinking outside of the box, and as we continue to come up with other ideas for these videos, we will institute them.”

Dress rehearsal videos were peer-reviewed before students produced their two- to three-minute-long final videos in November 2018. Assessment questions were written by the teams, which students in future classes will answer after exploring the immersive scenarios.

"In having to develop questions, students are analyzing it a lot differently, and enjoying it more,” Dreisbach said. Dreisbach plans to expand the library of scenarios as she repeats the assignment in future semesters.

These videos significantly enhance how criminal justice students learn. Students are better engaged in the course through extended classroom discussion and reflection.

“By experiencing 360-degree videos created by peers, students are provided a safe way to be present ‘on the ground’ at what might otherwise be a dangerous policing situation,” Mengel said. “The result is an engaging and memorable learning experience.”