Helping Students Reflect on 360° Video and VR
As students begin exploring the 360° media and virtual reality out there, it’s important to take time to reflect on the medium for three reasons:
- Reflection supports students’ deeper learning and meaning-making. (See video below.)
- When students make their own media, they should have a clear idea of why they want to create 360° media compared to another medium, and what kinds of stories 360° media is well-suited to tell.
- Virtual reality and 360° media are popular in both the consumer and education space. As students explore the power and possibilities of VR, they should also critically examine the implications of this medium as a storytelling and learning tool.
Reflecting on 360° Media
When you view 360° media, ask yourself or discuss with your peers:
- Why was this created in 360°? What impact does the format have on the message?
- How would it be different if it were a traditional video? Photos with text?
When you think about media you would like to make, ask yourself or discuss with your peers:
- Why will this be better in 360°?
- What will a 360° format enable me to do that I wouldn’t be able to accomplish with another medium?
Discussion and debate: VR and empathy
Check out the following perspectives, and consider sharing them with students. All three perspectives refer to the 360° documentary “Clouds Over Sidra,” which should be watched in a VR headset for best effect. Materials were not written for student audiences, so review them first before sharing:
- “How virtual reality can create the ultimate empathy machine” – TED Talk by Chris Milk
- “It’s ridiculous to use virtual reality to empathize with refugees” – article by Paul Bloom in The Atlantic
- Don’t compromise your ethics when telling stories in VR” – Zahra Rasool, Editorial Lead for @ContrastVR, Al Jazeera Digital
- “Voyeur Reality” – essay by Kathryn Hamilton in New Inquiry
- Chris Milk’s talk is about virtual reality, but he starts by giving other examples of art that intended to elicit an emotional reaction from viewers. Have you seen or heard of other art pieces that had this effect?
- Consider Chris Milk’s statement about Sidra in the film Clouds Over Sidra: “You feel her humanity in a deeper way…you empathize with her in a deeper way.” Given your experience of the film in the VR headset, do you agree? Why or why not?
- Paul Bloom writes about virtual reality, “The problem is that these experiences aren’t fundamentally about the immediate physical environments. The awfulness of the refugee experience isn’t about the sights and sounds of a refugee camp; it has more to do with the fear and anxiety of having to escape your country and relocate yourself in a strange land…You can’t tap into that feeling by putting a helmet on your head.” What do you think 360° video and virtual reality are really good for — what makes it a powerful medium? What are the limitations or dangers?
- Zahra Rasool shares that, “At Contrast VR part of our mission is to have a diverse team. For us it’s not just an added benefit — it’s essential that our editorial process involves collaborating with people who are connected to the stories we’re telling, to help us see things as they are.” What are some ways that you might collaborate with and learn from people who are connected to the stories you want to tell?
- Kathryn Hamilton writes, “Virtual reality, no less than film or photography, is framed by its maker’s perspective.” Think about the role of media creators, media subjects, and media audiences.
- What responsibilities do we have, as 360° video creators, to maintain the integrity of the stories we tell, and the authenticity of the people we represent in the video? (Consider encouraging students to research and discuss “journalistic ethics.”)
- In this project, young people (you!) will create media about your own realities and perspectives, for an audience that is perhaps very different from you. In “Clouds Over Sidra,” American filmmakers created a film about refugees for non-refugee audiences. How are these situations similar? How are they different?
The Global Nomads Group Virtual Reality Lab produces virtual reality experiences to help students think about other young people’s perspectives, especially in the United States and the Middle East / North Africa. The films are accompanied by classroom activities and curriculum that situate the media in context and help students reflect on and critically analyze what they see.
KQED’s Above the Noise Series produced a segment called “Can Virtual Reality Make You a Better Person?” that offers a short thought-provoking overview of the topic of Virtual Reality.
Media Literacy resources
If you are not already familiar with teaching resources related to media literacy more generally, here are a few recommendations for where to get started: