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Law students in the U.K. will will dive head first into virtual reality murder case

The U.K.’s University of Westminster is trying to appeal to the Pokémon Go generation of criminal law students. The school created an Oculus Rift virtual reality scenario designed to let students get a grip with case studies using current technology.

“Instead of students only learning from books, the idea was to give students the chance to understand criminology by actually interacting with a crime scene environment,” Markos Mentzelopoulos, a senior lecturer in the university’s computer science department, told Digital Trends. “It’s a way for them to explore case studies in different ways, taking advantage of VR’s immersive properties.”

Planned to be trialed by law students in November, REal and Virtual Reality Law (REVRLaw) lets students participate in a scenario, rendered in loving detail using the VR Unity engine. Within the scenario, they can analyze pieces of evidence and even interact with participants. The case study involves two brothers who run into financial problems while shooting a film — leading to the demise of one of the siblings.

“That’s where the action scenario starts,” Mentzelopoulos said. “You are inside the house and your goal is to try and come to a conclusion about whether or not the surviving brother is guilty of murder or not, or whether it was a case of self-defense. By examining the evidence, students can become acquainted with the case study.”

While still in its testing phase, the research paper behind the project has already received a Best Paper award from the Immersive Learning Research Network (iLRN).

Of course, a tool like this is not going to be valuable at all stages of law school. While understanding the specifics of cases is important, applying the legal process to cases is far less about TV detective-style investigations than it is knowing how to formulate arguments around facts. Still, as a way of engaging new students as a jumping-off point for discussion, REVRLaw sounds promising.

“This isn’t a way of replacing existing teaching materials, it’s about supplementing them,” Mentzelopoulos said. “Books and interactive lectures are still very important. But younger students are also more willing to try out new technologies. This is a chance for them to do that.”

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