Nov. 24, 2021

Virtual games teach students how to work in intimate partner violence situations

Project funded by UCalgary Teaching and Learning grant brings together students from faculties of Law, Social Work and Nursing
Three people sit together looking at a laptop, which is sitting on the lap of the person in the middle
Brooke Cagle, Unsplash

For many lawyers, nurses and social workers, the first time they must work in a domestic assault situation can be daunting. Whether they are working with the victim, the perpetrator, or their children, decisions that are made are complex and run the risk of having unintended consequences.  

A new project team — funded by a UCalgary Teaching and Learning grant — is developing virtual gaming simulations to educate students from the faculties of Nursing, Law and Social Work how to address childhood exposure to intimate partner violence. The simulations will involve these student groups being exposed to all the members of a family as they interact with the system at different points of intervention. 

Simulation-based experiences (SBEs) are an integral part of undergraduate nursing education in the Faculty of Nursing at UCalgary. Integrated throughout the curriculum, nursing students partake in these experiential learning opportunities to hone the necessary knowledge, skills, and attitudes or behaviours to practise nursing. 

Professor Jennifer Koshan

Professor Jennifer Koshan of the Faculty of Law is a member of the research team.

Simulation-based learning common across faculties

For law students, simulations are not a new experience, and UCalgary students participate in numerous moots and mock trials throughout their legal education. Prior to the pandemic, nursing SBEs took place in the labs, simulation suites and sometimes in the classroom. Virtual simulations have taken off during this time, but virtual gaming simulation, on the other hand, is a new learning experience. 

“We’re creating something that’s very much like an online game for the students to play,” explains Jennifer Koshan, a professor in the Faculty of Law, who has help on the project from research assistant Aurora Allison. “With the help of actors, students will work through various decision points in a domestic violence situation. Like a 'choose your own adventure' game, students will be taken down different paths based on the decisions they make.” 

Law students will be asked to play the role of a lawyer, who could be representing the victim, representing the perpetrator, or representing a child. If a decision made or answer given isn’t the best one, the game will steer them toward thinking about what the best decision would have been and why. 

Participation from nursing students will start when the virtual patient/s access health services such as hospitals or clinics. They will use their nursing knowledge and skills to assess the patient and intervene based on the scope of their practice. The research team from the Faculty of Nursing includes instructors Georgina Bagstad, Carla Ferreira, Breanne Krut, Krista Wollny and Jessica Mulli, as well as research assistants Torri Johnson and Ambereen Weerahandi.

Bringing together students from all three disciplines is key, as there is often conflict between the professions on how to proceed in cases of intimate partner violence. 

“If children are involved, for example, social workers and nurses have a duty to report their observation of domestic violence to child protection authorities, while lawyers are explicitly exempted from that duty because of solicitor-client privilege,” says Koshan. 

“Going through a game like this is a way for everyone to understand what their different roles are and how complex it is to deal with domestic violence cases.” Koshan also notes that this simulation will be an important vehicle for teaching law students about trauma-informed lawyering.

Dr. Angelique Jenney, PhD

Angelique Jenney from the Faculty of Social Work is the principal investigator for the project.

Train future professionals in a safe environment

The study, which is led by Faculty of Social Work professor Dr. Angelique Jenney, PhD, looks to train future professionals in a safe environment while getting them used to the way their respective professions will work together in the future. 

“These situations can be very complex and emotionally evocative for everyone involved,” says Jenney, the Wood’s Homes Research Chair in Children’s Mental Health. “Simulations like this provide a safe training environment for future social workers — and in this case, future lawyers, nurses and social workers.

"More importantly, research has shown repeatedly that when it comes to intimate partner violence, the key to safer families and children is better service collaboration between legal, health and social services. Our hope is that this new training curriculum component will provide better outcomes for future professionals going into these critical fields and ultimately those who will benefit are the families involved.” 

Research team members

Members of the research team from the Faculties of Social Work, Nursing and Law.