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Teaching Environmental Influences on Quality of Life with 360 Video

This lesson introduces how 360 video can enhance the education of undergraduate students in fieldwork research in urban places using a critical lens.

Published onJul 21, 2021
Teaching Environmental Influences on Quality of Life with 360 Video


This lesson introduces how 360 video can enhance the education of undergraduate students in fieldwork research in urban places using a critical lens.

Session Specifics

This is an upper-level undergraduate criminal justice course. Students must create a collection of fieldnotes and reflexive journal entries, as well as engage in non-participant observation using 360 video or traditional fieldwork methods. This lesson has three technical components. First, the lesson involves showing students how to use Google Drive and associated tools to generate, manage, and store their materials. Second, the lesson involves students learning to use Phone-based VR headsets with mobile phones, and creating 360 video. Third, students learn to conduct fieldwork using 360 video and using traditional methods (without 360; non-participant observation). This entry focuses on the second and third technical components.

A note about Google Drive and use of any cloud-based storage. A free cloud-based storage system such as Google Drive or Dropbox is recommended to minimize or avoid costs. Recommended steps for securing a Drive should be followed. A variety of recommendations and tips can be found online (see, for example, “5 tips for better Google Drive security” or “Is Google Drive secure? How to protect your Google Drive”). An alternative solution could involve Dropbox. You can develop individual folders for each student and share access. Only the instructor will have access to all student folders.

Instructional Partners

Important institutional partnership includes pre- and post-session support through Digital Scholarship Center postdocs, librarians, and tutors. Engagement should occur throughout the instructional period, and as needed. Partnering with centers on campus helps with pedagogy, course design, and procuring the best technology available. Center partners are also helpful with providing training and tutorials on technology and assisting with technical issues (e.g., data storage, data cleaning and processing, etc.).


This course is typically taught in a criminal justice program, but is open to undergraduate students and any major and minor. Students with an interest in urban planning, community development, psychology, creative placemaking, criminology, sociology, and anthropology may be especially interested in this course. 

Curricular Context

This course is semester-long, meets weekly for 80 minutes, and fulfills three credits of coursework in the criminal justice major and fulfills elective requirements. The course offers an introduction to environmental criminology to understand the role of the built environment in the creation and distribution of quality of life issues. We unpack how macro socio-structural processes and decisions (i.e., urban planning, segregation, gentrification, institutional and systemic discrimination and racism, mass incarceration, reentry, etc.) impinges on opportunities and the distribution of quality of life issues at urban places. 

Learning Outcomes

  1. Integrate multiple theories into discussions about community and crime prevention and quality of life. Apply theories about crime prevention and quality of life during fieldwork and the creation of fieldnotes.

  2. Reflect on the use of technology in different forms (i.e., mobile phone, Phone-based VR headsets, 360 video) to conduct fieldwork compared to traditional in-person, non-participant methods to understand quality of life and crime prevention. The objective is for students to reflect on their use and interaction with 360 video compared to traditional methods. Student reflections on their experience should drive deeper inquiry about methods and insights about the utility of one approach compared to another. The process is experimental and students are expected to articulate the benefits (or not) of working with the two different methods, including any preferences for one method over the other in helping shape their understanding.

  3. Critical reflection and incorporation of Anderson (2015)’s “The White Space” and intersecting positions as students, consumers, novice researchers, neighbors, and residents of various race/ethnicities, cultures, languages, and gender and identity expressions.


  • Consult with University or an external Institutional Review Board (IRB) about whether student fieldwork projects will need to be considered as human subjects research. Do this prior to the start of the course. In most cases, capturing 360 video and non-participant observation of landscapes and places may not be considered human subjects research. However, it is a good idea to undergo an ethics review to address the issue of incidental footage or documentation of human behavior at places. IRBs at different institutions may vary in their approach and requirements (e.g., students need to complete IRB training, etc.).

  • Administer a “Getting to know you” electronic survey within the first week of the session. This survey should cover information about a student’s familiarity with fieldwork, interests in the topic, learning preferences, and comfort with fieldwork and technology (see below).

  • Develop a partnership with a Digital Scholarship Center (DSC). First, you’ll want to ensure your materials and activities are accessible (Section 508 compliant) and inclusive (e.g., language, health, physical ability, etc.). Second, you’ll want to establish a partnership to call upon a resource to help students with Phone-based VR headsets and 360 video. Third, you’ll need to engage your DSC to either procure and/or borrow the technology required.

  • Set up a class Google Shared Drive or Folder (or any free cloud-based storage) for the class to upload videos to share and download various assignment materials. At this time, review and implement any recommended tips to increase security of data stored in cloud storage. Discussing the use of pseudonyms and not uploading sensitive information should also be covered. The student IRB training will also cover proper data collection and management (see session outline).




• Google Drive account (free)

• Google Drive account

•YouTube account (free)

• Mobile device of any kind

•One 360 camera (Ricoh Theta S: $425 via Amazon)

• Ear/head phones

•Helmet + camera mount (Combined: $30 via Amazon)

• Pre-fieldwork guidance

  • Phone-based VR headsets (Destek: $41 each via Amazon)
    Alternative: CAVE automatic virtual environment or another type of immersive visualization technology

  • Pre-fieldwork assignment

  • Fieldnotes guidance and template


The readings for the class center on crime prevention, community engagement, race/ethnicity and reflexivity, race/ethnicity, and fieldwork. The readings on crime prevention focus on the immediate problem of crime, with a limited discussion on the roots of crime. The readings on community engagement focus on the dynamics, conditions, and the importance of collective efficacy. The readings on reflexivity, race/ethnicity, and fieldwork focus on accounting for and handling researcher bias and position, “racializing surveillance,” and critical examination of the gaze of Whiteness in, around, and on urban places during fieldwork. These readings will help students develop an orientation about environmental places and imagine and empathize with a lived experience in an environmental context. Students will also be able to read and process scholarship that will invite them to think about how methods and research tools reinforce Whiteness and dominant culture and racial stereotypes in urban landscapes. A suggested reading list is provided at the end of this lesson plan. The suggested reading includes scholarship on the influence of structural inequality and racism on crime, communities, and places, and surveillance. Incorporating readings from this list is highly recommended. Readings should be substituted/read in conjunction with the readings below. 

Session Outline (15 weeks)

IRB Training (Student Version)

20 – 30 minutes (time may vary)

Introduce this self-directed assignment for students to either start/complete during a class session with guidance from the instructor or as a homework assignment. This is a useful assignment to train students on the ethical principles of conducting research, including fieldwork. 


45 minutes

Provide an overview of fieldwork and ethnography, including ethics and responsible conduct in the field. Cover key principles such as reflexivity and journaling. Also explain students will be required to (1) select a location for their fieldwork and discuss their site selection, (2) acknowledge their positions as student-researchers and the socio-political and cultural assumptions they will bring to the field (reflexivity), (3) describe their views and perceptions of their chosen location, (4) generate research questions about the location, and (5) describe the theoretical framework they will use to answer their research questions. 

Materials: pre-fieldwork assignment; pre-fieldwork guidance.

Hands-on 360 Video Development

50 – 80 minutes

Complete a walking tour of a nearby location such as a park, building location, street block, etc. with all students (see Figure 1). Prior to entering the field, mount the 360 camera to the helmet or use other mounting equipment to stabilize the camera as you walk. Ask students to volunteer for wearing the mounted helmet with the camera or the instructor can do this. Spend the entire period walking and stopping to point out theoretically and empirically relevant aspects of places. Walk around the perimeter first and then the interior to ensure you have adequately captured the entire location. Students should feel free to walk ahead, behind, or next to you, but everyone should be respectful of the location. Also ask students to observe and call out features that remind them of class material or prior experiences. It is especially important to capture instant reactions and concerns. At the same time, discuss the reactions and concerns as you walk, crouching your points in the class material. It is okay for the conversations to be captured on the 360 video. Students will have the opportunity to view and listen to the video and audio. This may help them make sense of initial reactions and reconcile that with how they feel after discussion and viewing the footage again. The goal is to help students become familiar with places and seek to understand them. 

Materials: 360 camera, helmet or other mounting equipment.

Screen capture of Google Maps walking tour

Figure 1. Walking Tour Site

Practice Session on Fieldwork and Fieldnotes

50 – 80 minutes

Complete practice fieldwork sessions with and without 360 video to orient students to these activities. These practice sessions should be completed on separate days so students have the opportunity to immerse themselves in each method of fieldwork. The practice session with 360 video should include using the Phone-based VR headsets and mobile phones and can be used in the classroom. The practice fieldwork session without 360 video will involve either an electronic or paper version of the fieldnotes template. Release students to find a spot directly outside of the place of instruction to complete their observations. Reserve 10-15 minutes before the end of each practice session to debrief with students about their experiences. 

Materials: fieldnotes template, Phone-based VR headsets, mobile phones.


Weekly writing

The following questions were given to students to complete weekly outside of the reflections required after fieldwork sessions. The questions are from Pedagogy Unbound by Adam Sanford. 

  1. What terms were the most important concepts of this week's lessons? Be sure to define any important terms in your own words. 

  2. What did not make sense?

  3. What would you like to know more about from this lesson, and why? 

  4. How does this lesson relate to something you have already learned outside of this class? 

  5. Why do you think you were required to learn this content?

Guidelines for completing the homework:

  • Question #2 must be about the course content or class discussion

  • Question #3 cannot be answered “nothing” or an equivalent (e.g., n/a, not sure, etc.). Make sure you answer the “why” question, too.

  • Question #4 cannot be answered with “it doesn’t.”

  • Question #5 cannot be answered with anything unrelated to the course content.

  • Integrate points from the reading (paraphrasing or direct quotes w/proper APA citation) and/or our discussion of readings. 


See fieldwork materials under “additional materials” section.

Critical Reflection

Time – A good amount of class time is needed to work with students to create 360 video. The session provides guidance for creating 360 video in one course period, but multiple sessions may be necessary for students to examine locations over time or explore them from different vantage points. This is easier to do without equipment, but it is harder to meet learning objective three. Involving the DSC is highly recommended to help students learn how to create 360 videos, but also upload and format their video footage for VR viewing. 

Voyeurism – Taking students into an outdoor space they may not be familiar with, while exciting, may also appear voyeuristic if students are uninformed about the context and history of their chosen sites or where practice sessions are conducted. Discussing the broader issues around neighborhood surveillance through RING cameras, personal cameras, drones, traffic cameras, or CCTV may help students think deeper about the importance of the experience and the assignments. The weekly reflections outside of class and within the fieldnotes are helpful in this regard. Also, students will need to position themselves prior to engaging in fieldwork to understand how the lens they use to observe the world, whether through VR or traditional means, influences their observations and understanding. 

Theoretical frameworks – this course reviews a controversial thesis called “Broken Windows” and involves discussions about perceptions of physical and social disorder and fear. Prior to conducting fieldwork and creating a 360 video with students, this thesis and concepts should be discussed and unpacked. Engaging the following frameworks will help with this discussion: surveillance studies, the prison industrial complex, and Victor M. Rios’ (2015) “Decolonizing the white space in urban ethnography.” As students react and express their thoughts during the walk tour to capture 360 video and during their own fieldwork and VR viewing, you’ll be able to engage them in reflection on the spot to help them understand their reaction (and any related assumptions using the suggested frameworks above). You will also be able to help them dissect what their reaction is a measure of, and more importantly, help students think about would be an appropriate and respectful response to the observed issues.

Additional Materials

Suggested Add-ons

Systematic Social Observation (SSO) can be added as another observation tool in contrast to open note taking using fieldnotes. SSO involves a structured protocol, like a survey or questionnaire, that directs user observations. Specific information is collected according to the protocol and is completed with each fieldwork session. Students can compare and contrast their experiences and understanding of environmental context using fieldnotes or SSO and combined with 360 video.

Video Tutorials on 360 video

Course Readings and Suggested Readings

Crime Prevention

  • Warner, B. D., Beck, E., & Ohmer, M. L. (2010). Linking informal social control and restorative justice: Moving social disorganization theory beyond community policing. Contemporary Justice Review, 13(4), 355-369.

  • Linning, S. & Eck, J. (2019). Hidden in plain sight: The history criminologists should know and teach but do not. The Criminologist, 44(4), 1-7.

  • Muniz, A. (2011). Disorderly community partners and broken windows policing. Ethnography, 13(3), 330-351. DOI: 10.1177/1466138111424982

  • Warner, B. D., Beck, E., & Ohmer, M. L. (2010). Linking informal social control and restorative justice: Moving social disorganization theory beyond community policing. Contemporary Justice Review, 13(4), 355-369.

Community Engagement and Collective Efficacy

  • Hein, J. (2014). The Urban Ethnic Community and Collective Action: Politics, Protest, and Civic Engagement by Hmong Americans in Minneapolis–St. Paul. City & Community, 13(2), 119–139.

  • Hipp, J.R. & Wo, J.C. (2015). Collective efficacy and crime. International encyclopedia of the social and behavioral sciences, 4, 169-173.

  • Hipp, J. R. (2016). Collective efficacy: How is it conceptualized, how is it measured, and does it really matter for understanding perceived neighborhood crime and disorder? Journal of Criminal Justice, 46, 32-44.

Reflexivity, Race, and Fieldwork

  • Anderson, E. (2015). The white space. Sociology of race and ethnicity, 1(1), 10-21.

  • Berger, R. (2015). Now I see it, now I don’t: Researcher’s position and reflexivity in qualitative research. Qualitative Research, 15(2), 219-234. DOI: 10.1177/1468794112468475

  • Browne, S. (2012). Race and surveillance. In K. Ball, K. Haggerty, & D. Lyon. (Eds.), Routledge handbook on surveillance studies (pp. 72-79). Routledge.

  • Rios, V. M. (2015). Decolonizing the white space in urban ethnography. City & Community, 14(3), 258-261.


Sanford, A. (2015). The quickwrite: A weekly student reflection exercise. (Archived at

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