Blended Learning

Using virtual reality to step into others’ shoes

Program provides students with free equipment to create virtual reality films

Creating films can allow children to show their perspectives, and new technology allows them to film all 360 degrees for a fully immersive experience.

Through the 360 Filmmakers Challenge, 29 schools submitted studentmade films shot with special cameras that allowed them to create a virtual-reality-like experience. Nine films earned an award, and four were selected as especially well-done. Those four were featured at the San Francisco International Film Festival this month. Digital Promise, a Washington-D.C.-based nonprofit that helps schools share best practices for using technology in classrooms, organized the student filmmaking project through its offshoot Digital Promise Global.

“We encourage empathy-building through the program,” said Dimitri Moore, a video producer and storytelling coach for Digital Promise Global. “Put the audience in your mind or place that matters to you.”

The special video equipment cost about $350 – not much more than the price of a regular camera. But Digital Promise Global provided the special cameras for free to schools that participated in the program, through​ Oculus’s VR for Good initiative, which aims to put virtual reality technology into the hands of people in need. They also arranged for filmmaking experts to provide feedback to students on the rough cuts of the films.

The goal is to help students and teachers work together to explore virtual reality technology. But that’s not all they hope to accomplish, said Chelsea Waite, program director of global learning for Digital Promise Global. The bigger goal, she said, is to break through the digital divide – the separation of the haves and the have-nots when it comes to technology in the classroom.

Related Link: Can Virtual Reality “teach” empathy?

“It’s about offering students creative and challenging opportunities to use technology in the classroom,” Waite said.

One film explored the topic of anxiety and children, taking viewers into the life of a student dealing with an issue that might be difficult for others to understand. The 360-degree film technology made it possible to see the world through the eyes of the child suffering from anxiety.

The four films featured at the San Francisco Film Festival are:

  • The Fakes,” by students from Monticello High School in Charlottesville, Virginia. The film featured a narrative that showed how bullying can lead to suicide.
  • Raised by Charlottesville,” by students at Charlottesville High School in Charlottesville, Virgina. They allowed viewers to see the community – past and present – through the perspective of a young woman.
  • Breaking Barriers,” by students from Parkville High School in Parkville, Baltimore County, Maryland. Viewers experienced the “inner thoughts” of a student with anxiety.
  • The Drama Community,” by students at Menlo-Atherton High School in Atherton, California. The film showed how a high school theater production unfolds by letting viewers to experience it through the eyes of a director.

“The films were incredibly personal and very well told,” said Moore. “This program is helpful because it teaches them to be producers of content rather than consumers of it.”

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Read more about Blended Learning.

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