device made of cardboard for using smartphone as virtual reality viewer

Virtual Reality Starter Kit

There are several different varieties of virtual reality (VR) now.   A recent Knight Foundation report called “Viewing the Future,” defined them this way: “‘virtual reality’…creates environments that allow people to be “present” in an alternative environment; ‘augmented reality,’ which starts with the real world and overlays virtual objects and information; and ‘spherical’ or ‘360-degree’ video, which captures an entire scene in which the viewer can look up, down and around.” (An older worldviewsoftware’s blog post about using augmented reality for education is available here.)

While the report focused on VR’s effect on journalism, VR has finally reached a price point where it is within reach of the classroom.  The immersive qualities of VR can make it a natural for empathetic storytelling, so why not help your students make a VR project instead of a video? There are just a few things to keep in mind.

First thing to recognize is that the VR itself is different from other visual media such as video and graphics.  This blog from graduate journalism students exploring VR contains lots of tips about perspective, angles, and other techniques that they have experimented with.  The second thing is a theme from the blog: it’s especially interesting to note that they keep finding a deeper message: the story’s the thing!  In fact, one of the most popular VR apps in the Google Play Store is Storytelling: Chair In A Room, by Ryan Bousfield, but horror stories are not my thing, so I didn’t download it to try it — I’d recommend trying the official Star Wars app’s Jakku Spy story instead.

Third is a reminder to keep it short — VR is still disorienting, and if a story is too long viewers may become nauseous.  According to this article, “Symptoms such as nausea are caused when the brain receives visual cues that clash with sensory information received from the ears’ vestibular system, which aids balance.”  This problem may have been fixed (.pdf) experimentally by researchers, but it will take time to roll out to users.

Finally, there’s already a wide range of tools available.  Google/Alphabet has put a lot of effort into creating the infrastructure around VR, and emphasizing democratic accessibility.  The featured image is a Google Cardboard VR viewer, by Wikimedia Commons user: othree, and is made primarily out of — yes — cardboard, which you fold up and drop your phone into.  (There’s some other stuff too, like a couple of lenses, two magnets, a rubber band, and some velcro.)  The first lesson plan can be to actually make the viewers you’ll be using, either from scratch or from the parts.  Other lesson plans can focus on students’ experimentation of techniques, storyboarding ideas, and the final product itself.


Examples: YouTube 360 Videos

What will your students create?

BulbgraphOnOffChronological questions test students’ ability to sequentially order information, placing it in historical context.

Preview WorldView Software’s programs for free at company logo

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Dr. Annelies Kamran is V.P. for Content and Product Development at WorldView Software, Inc.

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