Inspired by the potential of VR but faced with limitations, I started with a fairly basic, but transformative, video technique: 360-degree video.

How to use 360-degree video to engage students online and off

Inspired by the potential of VR but faced with limitations, I started with a fairly basic, but transformative, video technique: 360-degree video

In their personal lives, today’s students have traded in reading for watching. Whether getting a makeup tutorial on YouTube or learning ways to crack the code of their favorite video game on Twitch, they use screen time to discover new content and expand their horizons.

In the classroom, educators have the choice to fight this trend, or to embrace it. I understand the apprehension many educators have to increase screen time in the classroom, but ignoring students’ own learning preferences and inclinations is doing them a disservice. Video facilitates retention. As studies have shown, that kind of embodied learning can help students better understand the material, and immersive experiences help with retaining information.

Related content: 5 ways to use AR and VR in the classroom

I got a real sense for this while attending a virtual reality (VR) conference in Chicago when I put on an HTC Vive headset and was immediately transported onto a NASCAR race track. In the most complex advertisement I’ve ever seen, I was asked to change the race car’s tire and then hand the driver a Big Mac. From those couple of minutes moving around, waving my arms into the blank air, I got a vivid look at the car as I worked my way around it, and that virtual burger is emblazoned in my mind.

If video technology could have me thinking about McDonald’s this much, I knew it had potential beyond advertising.

Using 360 video to engage online students

When it comes to advanced video techniques, the potential is as wide reaching as one’s imagination: an anatomy professor could use VR to take students inside the human body—The Magic School Bus style. A history teacher could take students to Ancient Rome to sit on a throne themselves.

As an accounting professor, I am limited in my ability to create a world where I can “transport” my students; I deal with facts and figures, not great literature or historical artwork. But when it comes to the issue of engagement, accounting professors and educators that teach remote students, like I do, sure can use more of it.

Related: 4 easy ways to take your educational videos to the next level

Inspired by the potential of VR but faced with the realities of my own editing potential and the price of VR headsets, I started with a fairly basic, but transformative, video technique: 360-degree video.

360-degree video allows the viewer to pan their view left and right, adding a peripheral vision of sorts to static video by enabling them to get a sense of the complete circumference of the room. This means remote students can listen to a lecture while simultaneously taking in the notes I’m writing on the boards to the left and right; they can see the reactions and questions raised by other students in the room, giving them the sense that they are in the class—rather than just watching it.

Once I brought 360-degree video into the classroom, I saw an immediate increase in online course engagement and lesson completion rates. Online courses I built using this technique got three to four times the views of traditional videos, and 360-degree recordings now make up 50 percent of my most-watched videos overall.

Make video easy for yourself… and your students

While true VR is not yet scalable for most classrooms (the cheapest VR headset starts at $199), there are ways for educators to incorporate the basics of video. If your students have smartphones, you can get cardboard VR sets for as little as $12. To create my 360 video, all I needed was a Samsung Gear 360 camera and 45 minutes to stitch together a few scenes. Do not worry about being perfect right out of the gate. Start with simple techniques and build on top of them as you get more comfortable.

For educators anxious about getting started, the good news is students prefer content that is simple and short. I have often observed students tuning out as a video approaches the five- to six-minute mark; and in fact, the simple videos I create on the spot in my classroom often receive more positive feedback than the more complex videos I create in my office. In terms of length, three to four minutes seems to be the sweet spot, but your experience may vary. Pay attention to your students and note carefully what works, so you can replicate it.

Related: 6 ways video technologies are fundamentally shaping higher education

Once you create a dynamic 360-degree video, you need to make it easy for students to watch. I post my videos to YouTube so students can access them any time, I also make them available through National Louis University’s learning management system, D2L. This way, students can watch my videos in the same platform where they are getting assignments, turning in papers, and taking tests. Students are used to hitting a couple buttons and watching a video play, and that shouldn’t have to be different in your classroom.

Student preferences continue to change, and for educators to be effective we must continuously adapt. Using old pedagogical practices with digital natives will lead to frustration for both groups. By embracing the newest technologies, educators are able to grab the attention of students and hopefully pique their curiosity. Finding new ways to present information ensures students stay engaged and participate within the classroom.

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Laura Ascione

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