How to assign a 360 video in a multimedia reporting class

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UNM IFDM instructor Elan Colello, center, helps UNM students Kyra Begay, left and Ben Yazza with the settings on a 360 video camera during an exercise on immersive storytelling April 6, 2017.

As more news outlets wade into immersive reporting and prices drop for 360 cameras and storytelling equipment, it makes sense that journalism educators begin to experiment with such technologies in the classroom.

That’s one reason I decided to assign a short 360 video to students in a 300-level intermediate multimedia reporting class this spring at the University of New Mexico.

The idea was to spend one day introducing students to the history and the technology of 360 reporting and to spend another day having students try out beginner level equipment and produce a short video in a journalism context.

For the background on immersive storytelling, I called on Elan Colello, a colleague in the Interdisciplinary Film and Digital Media program who teaches a Virtual Reality Cinema class. Colello, who also is the CEO of ARVRUS, a 360º video distribution management platform, brought students up to speed in an hour and 15 minutes. His talk focused on the history and the current trends in virtual reality, using examples that showed various ways the technology can be used to present different types of stories.

To make the assignment’s production day go as quickly as possible, I preloaded the students with some homework and gave each student group a specific assignment that fit with a larger student reporting project on criminal justice being done by the New Mexico News Port, an online student publication. Each group of students had to produce a short video about a recent crime. Students had to use police reports to first write a broadcast script based on what the report said as well as add other additional information they could find. The reporting topics included a car burglary, criminal damage to property and an alleged sexual assault.

Here’s the wording of the assignment:

You’ll create a short (minute or so) 360 video that shows the viewer a place on campus where a crime occurred. You’ll shoot and edit the video this week, upload to YouTube and then upload the link to Learn. When you upload, write a few paragraphs about your role, what you learned and how you think you could use this technology for your journalism in the future.

The idea is to allow the viewer to look around the area where a crime has happened and to learn more about the incident. Team members will play various roles, including using video equipment as well as appearing on camera to narrate important parts of the story. Other students will research a story and use broadcast writing skills to produce a script.

The goals and objectives were:

Through a lecture on the history and trends in immersive journalism, students will use research, broadcast script writing and video recording and editing skills to practice 360 video technology to produce their piece.

I divided the class into teams of four or five and assigned various roles:

One member of your group will research your incident and write a short script BEFORE class time.

One of you will be the on-air reporter.

One or two of you will run the equipment (camera and audio).

At the start of the second day, students were given an overview of the cameras we had available, borrowed from the IFDM program. These included the Insta 360 4K and the Ricoh Theta S and M15 models. The overview was brief, but the models are pretty straightforward. Students also checked out lavalier mics and Zooms or Tascams to record the audio and used $40 monopods to hold their cameras.

Overall, the students in the class, who at this point in the program have experience in broadcast reporting and video editing but no previous experience with immersive storytelling, were able to quickly pull in their videos and edit and produce something short. This took some editing guidance in the lab and Colello helped install the right plugins for the spherical video formats. In the end, two of the five groups were able to produce stories that day while others did so shortly after. We used Premiere Pro CC to edit and YouTube for hosting.

I would do this assignment again for sure, but with more time and additional cameras so that each group member could experiment with the equipment. Student feedback overall was positive, but included some comments that more time for the work would have been beneficial.

Here’s a wrap up of tweets that students produced during the assignment, and a little more information on how the exercise went overall.