By Ben Werner
The ECPI University criminal justice student faces a life-size motorist projected onto a screen, presumably stopped for a routine moving violation, unaware of what might happen but ready to react.
Will the suspected offender simply accept a ticket? Will the student issue a warning? Or will the scene turn violent requiring use of a laser pointer sidearm?
Many scenarios are possible in this exercise, using ECPI's recently installed Milo Range Pro v4 simulator. The course instructor can alter one of the most common law enforcement interactions to end peacefully or escalate depending on the lesson being taught and the student's reactions. More than 250 possible scenarios put students face to face with burglary suspects, potential bombers, even mumbling pedestrians.
Increasingly, university students are learning in classes where they are more likely to act out or work on life-size mock-ups of real-world situations instead of sitting in rows scribbling down notes from a professor opining from behind a lectern.
At ECPI, the Milo Range Pro v4 simulator is in a classroom looking as if it houses a giant video game, complete with weapons designed to weigh and feel like the real thing, only they shoot laser beams at the screen to suggest where a bullet might fly. But the purpose isn't target practice, rather, to teach tomorrow's law enforcement officers how to think fast and react to any number of situations they're bound to encounter.
"The benefit is situational awareness," said Mark Dreyfus, president of Virginia Beach-based ECPI. "It's about developing the mind. It's not about target practice."
Employers are demanding experience and the ability to adapt to real-world situations. Simulators are great tools to use when training students, Dreyfus said. "Employers say great, you got a degree, but what can you do?"
"The colleges and universities are always looking for ways to enhance their instruction," said Lawrence G. Dotolo, president of the Virginia Tidewater Consortium for Higher Education. "It doesn't matter where you go, they're all using the latest technology. It's all across the board."
For instance, at Tidewater Community College, students in the Emergency Medical Services Program use a simulated ambulance that mimics the experience of treating patients while traveling to a hospital.
The Milo Range is just the latest simulator installed by ECPI. Other simulators include the Syndaver, a lifelike human mannequin with a complete simulation of body organs, skin, bone and working respiratory, circulatory and digestive tract systems. If the student cuts the Syndaver, it bleeds.
The privately held, for-profit university prides itself with being an early adopter of simulation technology, and its ability to quickly integrate new learning tools into the curriculum at its campuses in Virginia and the Carolinas.
"As a private institution, we can take risks and we can move quickly," Dreyfus said.
The Milo system is a good example of this speed to integrate new technology into the classroom. Last fall, Dreyfus learned about Milo while touring another school. Instantly, he said he could see the value. After discussing the system with faculty and calling a few local law enforcement agencies, Dreyfus decided to purchase the system, which was installed by the middle of March.
When asked about the speed of purchasing new technology, Dotolo agreed ECPI might have an advantage. The state has been doing a good job of simplifying the purchasing process, but Dotolo said Dreyfus owns ECPI, so it's his call whether to buy equipment.
While new technology is enhancing the student experience, Dotolo said colleges and universities can't simply expect to write big checks and suddenly see improved learning. There has to be some thought about how to use the new technology.
"You have to have a purpose," Dotolo said. "It has to fit into the community. Before anyone buys equipment, I think they want to make sure it fits in."
Dreyfus agrees. He stressed whenever ECPI makes a purchase, it's not just to say they were the first to have a new shiny piece of equipment. The curriculum has to be able to accommodate the new equipment.
Typically, Dreyfus said ECPI installs new technology as a pilot program at one campus, to work out the bugs and enhance the program over time. If teachers and students value the new technology, the school expands it to other campuses.
"As a private institution, we don't have to study it forever," he said.