VR Social Experiment: The Reality Of Homelessness
About Michelle & Luke:
Michelle Bunting is a documentary filmmaker and researcher. Her educational technology project, “Windows Into Homelessness”, conceived of during her time as a Learning Technologist at the University of Western Australia, Centre for Education Futures and fleshed out after she began working with the Centre for Social Impact UWA, was a documentary on the homeless community in Perth.
For Michelle, working with learning technologies happened by chance. Fiercely passionate about education, she was offered the position of Learning Technologist at the Centre for Education Futures while she was a graduate research assistant at UWA.
Besides helping redesign units, producing and testing the use of videos in learning experiences to increase student learning and engagement, she was also tasked with piloting the application of 360 technologies to learning experiences.
This is when she met Claire Stokes from the Centre for Social Impact UWA, whom later she created the Windows Into Homelessness experience for with Luke. The experience aims at helping students understand the reality of living homelessly.
Before the project: improving student learning with videos
As a researcher, Michelle found that videos can be an effective way to engage students in their coursework, reaching students who do not learn best through textbooks or lectures. Short videos especially help clarify crucial concepts and demonstrate lab experiments effectively. Even in providing feedback, videos present many advantages over other media. It can take the same amount of time to record a personalized video as it does to write a note. With a video, faculty members can improve the feedback quality significantly as they’re able to delve into more detail on the “philosophical aspects of the paper”, contrary to grammar correction along the margins that they’re used to. This eventually leads to greater overall engagement and enjoyment between the students and their instructors.
Production values aren’t everything and do not need to be a barrier to creating videos. Students are far more concerned with videos meeting their informational needs than whether other not external lighting and a fancy camera were used to create the video.
That being said, Michelle offered tips that will ensure video quality:
(1) Plan your video ahead of time and make note of key points to include.
(2) Clean audio will make or break a video so use an external microphone if you have access to one and/or choose a quiet location with minimal background noise or chance of being interrupted.
(3) Keep the camera steady by using a tripod, if possible, or by propping it up on books.
Make a Quality VR Documentary in Less Than 5 Weeks
As Luke explains, the whole project had to be completed in under 5 weeks to launch the project at the Perth Social Impact Festival.
Michelle and Luke had 1 week of camera testing and blocking each scene ready for the actors, which proved to be crucial for shooting and more importantly stitching. Shooting took 2 weeks, and the 2 weeks left went into post.
Working With a GoPro Omni: Not Without Its Creative Challenges
The biggest drawback, they said, is the lack of live 360 monitoring. They had to rely on the knowledge gained from testing to avoid pesky stitch lines and actor placement issues. Luke admits: “I look forward to the day where I can get a similar DPI (dots per inch) from a 360° setup that I can from conventional Digital Cinema Cameras like an ARRI Alexa or RED.”
Although editing didn’t take much time, stitching began to get painful. Since there were actors involved, Michelle and Luke were present for each scene to monitor their acting, and had to manually stitch themselves out in the final edit. This meant working across multiple layers of video which poses many challenges to the editing software and their computers. Luke tells us if multiple layers/effects/composites are involved when working with professional non-linear editing systems (NLE) like Adobe Premiere Pro or Final Cut Pro, he’d recommend working with someone experienced in troubleshooting NLE’s as it starts to become a more perilous experience.
The final turnout was, nonetheless, “wondrous”.
Speaking as an anthropologist, Michelle is excited about VR/360’s power to provide students with experiences and opportunities previously unavailable. For a stand-alone continent like Australia, this is particularly significant. VR and 360 can immerse students in both recreations of ancient cultures and their contemporary adaptations as they exist today across all corners of the world.
VR is the next paradigm of multimedia, it will become as engrained in our culture as online video is now. … It feels like we’ve finally stepped foot into a future we were promised decades ago.
Luke, on the other hand, is looking forward to expanding the storytelling capabilities of the medium, potentially into long-form narratives. He says: “Drama is where my heart lies, and I am excited by the prospect of working in a medium where the rulebook is quite unwritten.”
Incorporating education can provide videos with depth and purpose taking them beyond novelty which 360 and VR have been accused of in the past.
As we speak, Michelle has already left UWA to return to the film industry. She expresses her hopes of always integrating an element of education in the videos they make and stories they tell. They have some exciting projects in the pipeline both 360°, and we are holding our breath.