Virtual Reality: An Immersive Tool for Social Work Students to Interact with Community Environments

Nicholas Lanzieri, Elizabeth McAlpin, David Shilane, Henry Samelson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Research supports various benefits of using virtual reality (VR) within social work education. As a pilot study, this paper describes the impact of a 360 VR simulation designed to immerse students at a New York school of social work in a typical New York City neighborhood, with the goal of helping them learn about how its history, resources, demographics, and physical space impacts its inhabitants. This, in turn, is intended to support novice students in gaining familiarity with new social contexts and communities, and in connecting macro and micro nuances with practice. An overview of the role of VR in social work education is provided, followed by a description of the pilot 360 VR simulation developed by the authors of this paper, including the rationale for that development and the theoretical framework for its design. Using a mobile device and Google Daydream headset, students are guided through a panoramic urban environment by a pre-recorded voiceover that promotes reflective and analytical thinking as they observe the community through the lens of a social worker. Independent sample t-tests showed statistically significant changes in average scores between pre-and-post tests. Results of the pilot as indicated by pre- and post-survey of student perceptions and test of their knowledge are provided. Pedagogical and clinical practice implications for the 360 VR simulation are identified and discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)207-219
Number of pages13
JournalClinical Social Work Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2021


  • Field education
  • Scaffolding
  • Simulation
  • Social work
  • Virtual reality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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