Designing Immersive Learning and Storytelling Experiences with 360° Video

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A new era of 360° camera technology has transformed the process of creating immersive learning experiences for education.

Designing Immersive Learning and Storytelling Experiences with 360° Video
Credit: Sergey Nivens / EDUCAUSE © 2019

A New Era of Immersive Video for Education

One of the main challenges to implementing VR projects in the learning environment long involved content development and cost. Leaving aside high-end projects and their reliance on advanced software programs, even shooting 360° video was difficult. Immersive scenes required costly professional cameras or less-expensive systems made from GoPro cameras and plastic frames (which were often custom made on 3D printers).

But a new era of consumer and "prosumer" 360° cameras has transformed the process of creating 360° videos for education. It is now one of the easiest entry points for developing immersive experiences. The cameras are portable, automatically stitch together full 360° scenes, and often include a mobile app or software with basic editing features. As the technology matures and becomes easier to use, it opens a fascinating new world of creativity for students and faculty alike.

Faculty can now bring these cameras to research sites and on field trips to produce 3D resources for their courses. For students, this technology encourages direct exploration of their environment, turning them into creators and producers rather than just consumers. With 360° cameras, students and faculty can focus on content rather than learning new software. And the final product, 360° videos, are much easier to share than full VR experiences that require high-end headsets. These videos can be posted online and viewed through stand-alone VR headsets such as the Oculus Go and Lenovo Mirage Solo or even Google Cardboard paired with a user's smartphone.

Prototyping and Shooting 360° Experiences

While the technology is becoming less expensive and easier to use, new challenges arise in learning how to shoot and produce in a 360° format. Traditional cameras are tools that only record what is captured in the frame. In contrast, 360° cameras capture everything in the room. Considerations such as lighting, camera placement, and where you are located in a scene require a different mind-set. Anyone shooting a 360° video suddenly realizes they need to become sharp observers of the environment because nothing will be left out.

In shooting immersive video, however, it's critical that we uncover new ways to prototype the experience. We no longer control the progression of a linear narrative inside a frame. Someone in a 360° experience has complete freedom to look wherever they want. Indeed, as the VR director and artist Chris Milk has said, "You become the character in the story."

Students and faculty as creators now need to think of new ways to capture others' attention through audio and lighting cues. When the rectangular screen on the wall disappears, so does the value of a traditional storyboarding process. We have been hosting workshops that explore how to prototype experiences and stories in 360° video following a design-thinking method we developed based on our work as educators and makers of 360° videos. You're no longer recording a video for an audience but designing an immersive experience that someone will step into. It's a whole new way of visual thinking that considers the immersive dynamic of human experience (see figure 1).

8 people around a table. They are collaborating in groups of 2 or 3.
Figure 1. Faculty at The New School experiment with 360° cameras as part of an Immersive Storytelling workshop led by Maya Georgieva at the XReality Center

The Importance of 360° Video in Higher Education

In this new world where technology is no longer a tool to deliver information but a driver of creating new experiences, there is much to consider for our institutions and the broader environment of higher education. Immersive technologies offer a space for experimentation and innovation. There are no set rules, and like the Lumiere Brothers, George Melies, and others at the birth of cinema, students and faculty have the opportunity to create a new language of immersive storytelling. We need to recognize that this is a moment of deeply empowering creativity.

It also marks a profound shift in the resources we use in our learning environments. From text (whether print or digital) and traditional video resources, 360° video marks the shift to a new era of 3D immersive simulations that will lead to new forms of experiential learning. Educators will have to work out how that relates to and transforms our current understanding of learning. In addition, what kinds of pre- and post-immersive experience activities will we design to foster higher-order thinking and new forms of assessment?

Looking to the future, immersive experiences will raise profound issues of ethics and privacy. It's one thing to write a paper on a hotly debated social topic but quite another to shoot the related event in 360° video and ask others to step into it—to actually experience it. We have explored in other articles how we think digital fluency and ethics will be fundamental issues in a world of experience-on-demand. Join us in Anaheim in February during the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI) Annual Meeting for a session titled Is VR the Ultimate Empathy Machine or Just an Illusion? that also addresses these issues. It's important that we open this dialogue now and introduce our students to the issues at stake.

Our Session at the 2019 ELI Annual Meeting

Separately, in a preconference workshop we will conduct at the ELI Annual Meeting, we will learn and experiment with 360° video cameras and editing tools and brainstorm project ideas. We'll toss out the traditional format of a storyboard for shooting video and instead will engage in design-thinking and prototyping activities to design an immersive experience. We will also discuss and identify strategies and project-based use cases for the implementation of 360° video in the learning environment.

This workshop will provide an opportunity for attendees to create a short 360° video project. More importantly, those who join us will gain a new toolset for 360° content creation, design insights, and implementation strategies. We promise an engaging hands-on experience, one that will help you lead the way in transforming the learning environment at your institution.

Emory Craig is Director of eLearning at the College of New Rochelle and Co-Founder of Digital Bodies.

Maya Georgieva is Director, Digital Learning, at The New School and Co-Founder of Digital Bodies.

© 2019 Emory Craig and Maya Georgieva. The text of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-ND 4.0 International License.