360° immersive media in teaching

This month, I have been looking into the use of 360° video and photography in the classroom. 360° cameras capture everything that’s going on around them, so they are great for creating experiences which really give people a sense of ‘being there’.

A few examples of recent ideas the media team here at the University of Derby have been either working on or playing with:

  • Body cameras on Police officers so students can watch interactions and discuss appropriate reactions.
  • Footage from a classroom so students can assess a teaching style and judge when particular students in the film would have benefitted from attention or help.
  • An immersive film to look into the early sensory experience of babies and young children.
  • A tour of the University campus, complete with interviews of staff and students in different areas.
  • A look inside the newsroom of a local newspaper, with interviews with the editor and staff, to give students a sense of real world experience direct from the classroom.

While it’s not exactly a brand new concept, with 360° consumer cameras being on the market for several years now, as a cinematic language it is still very much in its infancy and is still developing.

360° video has some immediate appeals: first of all, the very sense of ‘newness’ of it can mean that any class making use of 360° content will be immediately memorable, and the immersive nature of it makes it appropriate for a wealth of uses, from military training through to meditation.

360° content can be viewed in many ways. Most simply, it can be shown on a computer as a flat image and the viewer can use their mouse or arrow keys to move around the image or video.

Using a smartphone to view the content adds a layer of interactivity, where students can move their own phones around to explore the image as if they were actually present and viewing the scene through their smartphone’s camera.

Lastly, using a headset, students can have a truly immersive experience where the ‘real’ world is shut out from them and everything they see and hear comes from the 360° content and the movement of their head changes their view in the scene, just like it would in real life.

There are other possibilities such as projection on all four walls of a room to make the whole space change, but those are not so accessible to tutors at present.

Each of these options of course has pros and cons. Viewing on a computer is the simplest, but also the furthest removed from being truly immersed in the footage, and therefore uses the content in a relatively similar way to standard ‘flat’ video and photographs. There is still the interactive element of being able to use the mouse or arrow keys to move around the view, and has the advantage that a group can work together looking at the same footage, perhaps exploring it together in a piece of class group work.

Using mobile phones is a fairly simple way for a full class to access the content, but does require students to use their own devices – and while smartphones are increasingly common, this can disadvantage or single out those students who do not own them, so it is important to make provisions for those students available. Finding the right platform to host footage can be difficult if you are creating it yourself, but there is plenty out there if you are asking students to view content which already exists from other providers.

As an experience, a phone or computer is worlds away from using a headset where the emotional resonance of the footage can be profound and can feel incredibly close to the real thing.

The New York Times has been creating a lot of 360° content, and for myself, experiencing a bombed-out building in Ukraine through a headset gave me an emotional response and connection to the material which I have never felt before: however silly it might sound to say, I suddenly felt like I was actually there, in that broken building, with nothing but rubble all around me, and found myself relieved to be able to take the headset off and return to the safety of my office. (The Guardian have released an incredible series of immersive content, such as ‘The Party’ which shows the experiences of a 15 year old girl with Autism when faced with a surprise party. For a more light-hearted experience, perhaps try a dog’s view of a dog show, or meditate and create a sense of stillness and calm among the redwood in a North Californian forest on a warm Summer day).

However, while Google Cardboard headsets can be bought for just a few pounds each, there is often a feeling of ‘one person at a time’ in a class using footage shown in a headset, and as a tutor it can be hard to know whether students have found the aspect of a shot or video that you are hoping they will. There is also a fairly common problem of people using VR headsets experiencing headaches or dizziness, so it’s important to have the opportunity for users to use a computer if they prefer.

With any use of student’s phones, there is also the added time in setting up and asking students to download the correct files onto their phones (and the inevitable forgotten wifi passwords, etc).

As a format, 360° video and photography invites so much discussion, whether you are showing existing examples, creating them yourself for your class, or asking students to create it themselves.

Currently it can be complex to edit 360° video or do seemingly simple things like add text to it – and creating ‘hotspots’ in videos where users can jump from one area or piece of information to another can be very time consuming, so it is important at this stage that if you want to create content in 360°, that the effort will pay off by being used across enough students.

When filming your own content, camera placement can be more complex as instead of finding a good angle to film, people need to find a place to put the camera where the entire space looks appropriate. With documentary work, often one side of the view gives a ‘behind the scenes’ feel, showing the filming team and any kit such as lights or microphones – but with a drama, all of this has to either be hidden, or half of the video needs to be blacked out.

It’s an exciting time to be experimenting with the format, with 360° video cameras available for under £100 and a lot of interest from students in viewing, discussing, and creating content.

The media team here at Derby have several 360° cameras, so why not speak to us about any projects you have in mind?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *