Imagine students creating virtual reality. What do you see? Is it happening in a high-tech lab fully equipped with expensive technology? Do the students already have a high degree of technical expertise? Is this an extracurricular class for the highest achievers?
Perhaps in some cases. However, creative production with technology is possible in many school contexts and for all learners. In fact, to close the Digital Learning Gap, we must recognize that all students everywhere need opportunities to engage in active, creative uses of technology that support lifelong learning.
The 360 Filmmakers Challenge, a program that Digital Promise Global directs in partnership with the Oculus VR for Good initiative, is one example. The program engages young people to produce 360° films that make an impact, aiming to inspire students as creators and build their skills and confidence with production and technology.
Moreover, the program deliberately engages a diverse group of schools to take part. In Fall 2016, participating schools were almost all public district schools, in urban and suburban areas across seven states and the District of Columbia. Sixty-five percent served populations where over 40 percent of students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, and half (17 schools) received Title I funding. Classroom context varied, from filmmaking and multimedia classes, to subject area classes such as chemistry, social studies, and government. The sites also varied widely in their technology resources and experience with film production.
So what did the program achieve? In Fall 2016, we recognized nine top films produced by students across the country. Student producers shared their authentic selves, struggles and all, from life as the child of immigrants to grappling with social anxiety. In this sense, the program clearly shows that young people from many contexts and backgrounds can produce high-quality, powerful stories with 360° video.
But the purpose of the program is not just to recognize the top films — it is to help all participants learn and grow in the process of creating an immersive story. What do students get from producing 360° films? What is the potential of the program to enable student learning and growth?
In the Fall 2016 program implementation, we undertook a documentation effort to begin to explore this question. In partnership with Designs for Learning, we collected student and teacher reflections and used an exploratory approach to uncover potential areas of impact and value. We also solicited feedback from participants in order to continuously improve program design.
Key findings from our documentation suggest that in creating 360° video stories, students can learn about the production process, develop important skills such as communication, collaboration, and perspective-taking, and discover new career possibilities and passions. In addition, our documentation supports the idea that authentic project prompts and a real-world audience can boost students’ motivation, persistence, and pride. Our findings also highlighted a number of challenges when undertaking the project, including time management, technology preparation, and student-to-technology ratio.
We hope this documentation report will be valuable for educators and education leaders considering 360° video and other virtual reality production projects for students. We also believe the report supports the broad idea that all students should have opportunities to engage in active, creative uses of technology.
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