Capturing Narratives, Communicating Worlds

  By Todd French

 

The project focused on an opportunity to attend a 360 Video workshop through the UC Berkeley Journalism School, learning how to create and edit media in this format for successful storytelling. After these skills were attained and a suitable camera (Ricoh Theta V) was purchased, I spent time meeting with the instructional technologists to think about the best way to integrate this storytelling tool in my class. I decided to implement the tool in my RCC Honors course, titled “Discipline.” In the course we explored a range of issues from lifehacks, Asceticism, “habitus” and social laws, the prison industrial complex, and several other topics. I asked my students to communicate their understanding of their world, and to create immersive scenarios that explore our topics as a final project. I am eager to use the camera in several other courses, including: God, Robots, Bodily Technologies, as well as my courses on Extremes of Religion, and Sex, Violence and Religion.

 

What inspired you to implement this project?

 

I would cite the remarkable notion of “world creation” that Rachel Wagner explores in her text, Godwired. She explains that for the first time in history humans are experimenting with creation of worlds in a way that has historically been limited to our concept of “God.” This is an exciting moment in our history. As Elon Musk has recently argued, we are edging ever closer to the point when the photorealistic nature of video games will be indistinguishable from what we now call reality. Imagining a world in which VR is as immersive as “the real” is not hard to do. I regularly employ a game called “Chair in a Room” with my class when we utilize the Google Cardboard headsets. It is remarkable to watch a student jump with fear in front of a classroom of their peers through what amounts to a piece of cardboard and their cell phone. I regularly ask, “If your cell phone can be so immersive, what does the future hold?” I think this is precisely the value of a project such as this. It will allow students to engage firsthand with a new and burgeoning technology as they seek to tell their own stories and the stories of their worlds in compelling ways, coupling inquiry and understanding with an immersive tool for relating their findings. Finally, if I was a student coming to Rollins College, I would want to know that there were professors thinking with the latest available technologies and how they will impact the future of my chosen field and education. I hoped that this technology will fill a gap on campus that some are projecting will be a $692 billion dollar industry by 2025, and could rise to $1.3 trillion by 2035 (http://www.cnbc.com/2016/10/14/citi-eyes-a-trillion-dollar-industry-in-virtual-reality-technology.html).

 

What were the goals for this project? 

 

To learn the latest technologies for recording and editing 360 Video. To understand how to translate these technologies into immersive storytelling. To allow students a creative platform with which they might explore their world and learn to tell important stories that lend themselves to this style of communication. To consider how other departments and disciplines on campus might fruitfully employ such technologies.

 

Identify the tools and resources you used for this project.

 

We were able to purchase a Ricoh Theta V camera and employ it in a video project. I trained students in how to isolate audio and edit video in Adobe Premiere, as well as other video editing programs ranging from the user friendly to the highly technical (Mettle Skybox). I was fortunate to work with the instructional technologists and utilize their expertise in these programs.

 

What pedagogical techniques, strategies, and/or philosophies did you employ?

 

I utilized group projects focused on building internal community, which is in line with the RCC goals. Students were asked to think about a problem that they encountered in our readings and discussions throughout the semester and further develop that problem into a project that aimed at exploring or solving that problem. In constructing a final project, I wanted students to have the freedom to be creative in their treatment of a social problem. I would cite pedagogical research that suggests creativity as a higher order of learning that is useful for liberal education.

 

What were some of the lessons that you learned from implementing this project?

 

I learned that students are far more technologically advanced than we may assume. I was worried that they might not understand the nuances of video editing, but most of them simply ran with the project, looking up blogs and youtube videos as needed to round out their skills. The other thing that became clear to me was that new mediums for storytelling often need a good bit of explanation for people to understand how they can be advantageous or worth the extra effort.

 

How did this endeavor change your teaching in expected or unexpected ways?

 

It made me slow down a bit and consider how to implement a new technology.

 

What did you change (or would you change) the second time you implemented this project in class?

 

I would build in a few more days of practice with the camera and start the project earlier in the semester–perhaps with a preliminary project.

 

How did this project impact student learning?

 

The outcome was great. Students loved engaging with this tool and project.

 

Todd French

 

Assistant Professor – Department of Philosophy and Religion

Todd French’s research interests include Early Christianity, Byzantine Hagiography, Syriac, Islam, Mysticism, Gender, Poverty, and Extremes in Religion. He teaches courses including: Christianity: Thought and Practice; Islam: History and Beliefs; New Testament; Sex, Violence, and Religion; Food, Poverty, Social Justice; Mysticism: East and West. He holds a Ph.D. from Columbia University’s Department of Religion.