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School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work


Professional practice often takes place in complex environments that require sophisticated approaches. However, the extent to which professional training has kept up with the ever-changing demands of practice is unclear. New technologies and approaches to simulation may help educators introduce a sense of realism within teaching that is difficult to replicate in a classroom setting – this in turn may help equip the workforce to learn how to manage more complex workplace scenarios and environment.

Project Outline 

This studentship will explore the concept of Interdisciplinary Immersive Education with a view to developing a new approach to professional education within QUB, that uses the latest digital technologies. Led by SSESW staff, this project will seek to include colleagues from other professional courses at QUB such as, midwifery/nursing, law and teacher training to develop and test the benefits of immersive technology when  teaching complex and advanced interdisciplinary skills (e.g. challenging aggressive behaviour, engaging with the law (court based skills), assessing the home environment and making safe-guarding judgements etc.). 

Project Title: Borders within and around the United Kingdom after Brexit

It was predictable that some of the most direct effects of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU would be manifest at the UK’s borders with the European Union. What was less expected was that Brexit would lead to changes to the UK’s internal borders. As the transition period comes to an end, the UK faces new challenges in terms of how to maintain frictionless movement of goods, people and services across its internal and external borders. These challenges arise in legal, economic and political terms, as well as socio-cultural ones.

The most obvious changes to the UK’s internal borders will be between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, as a result of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland in the Withdrawal Agreement. More broadly, new frictions on cross-border movement within the UK could arise as a result of differential policies among the nations and regions of the UK. A future referendum on Scottish independence will also draw attention to potential border-related policies and change.

The measures proposed (and indeed, the measures not taken) now to address the new conditions for the management of the UK’s borders, internal and external, will have major long-term consequences. This studentship is to fund doctoral research on this subject at a critical juncture.

There is a growing realization in many societies that certain adults who are vulnerable have been subject to abuse, harm or exploitation. Abuse of vulnerable people is an increasing problem given the demographics of an ageing society and the promotion of care in the community. Over the last 15 years, increased public and political awareness has developed alongside policy and professional intervention to increase our understanding of the abuse and protection of adults whose personal characteristics or life circumstances may put them at risk of harm. Northern Ireland is unique across the UK, as it does not yet have any adult protection legislation, although an Adult Safeguarding Bill is pending.

Research into adult protection locally, nationally and internationally, is limited in range and volume; where it exists, the research tends to consider issues at an individual micro level. There are major gaps in knowledge and understanding of adult protection particularly around developing a systemic model of abuse, considering wider structural issues such as poverty, unemployment and service provision.

Supervisors: Dr Paul Best, Dr John D’Arcy and Dr Yang Hua

Northern Ireland has one of the highest levels of PTSD in Europe (Ferry et al. 2015). It is estimated that as much as 20.7% of the population aged 50+ meet the diagnostic criteria for PTSD. This has contributed to a public health crisis in the most deprived areas with record levels of antidepressant prescribing, growing alcohol and substance misuse and lower life expectancy.

Current treatments for PTSD, while largely successful, routinely include some form of exposure to the feared event (imaginal or in-vivo). As such, drop out remains high (78% in some cases) and many of those who would benefit most, fail to complete treatment. Immersive technology, such as Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy (VRET), has shown clinical utility in regards to ET, by increasing its acceptability and enhancing traditional (imaginal based) exposure exercises (Botella et al., 1998; Aiken and Berry, 2015; Freeman et al. 2017). It has been particularly useful in the treatment of PTSD - a disorder characterised by persistent “avoidance of reminders of the trauma” (Rizzo et al. 2006). However, despite the strong evidence regarding VRET, we are yet to see the widespread adoption of VRET and other immersive technologies within clinical settings. This appears due to the high production values (cost) associated with VRET and a dearth of available data regarding its acceptability and feasibility within clinical (real-world) settings. Moreover, PTSD treatment (by nature) is idiosyncratic and as such, individuals exposed to the same event will often have different interpretations and appraisals that contributed to the development of their condition (Grey, 2009).

Immersive 360 video is a low-cost alternative to VR, yet one that has shown the same potential to achieve ‘spatial presence’ (i.e. the extent to which the immersive environment feels real) (Bailey and Bailenson, 2017). Therefore, the use of immersive 360 video may enable the generation of tailored images, to assist and enhance traditional imaginal based exposure exercises on a case by case basis. If this lower-cost alternative can be shown to be acceptable to clinicians as well as enhance current PTSD treatment, this may lead to greater adoption within clinical settings. As such, this project will use an experimental research design to explore the feasibility and benefit of trauma-focused therapy enhanced with immersive 360 video technology to treat PTSD.