CoJMC students use virtual reality to create an immersive storytelling experience

CoJMC students use virtual reality to create an immersive storytelling experience

Monday, February 12, 2018 - 11:15am
Merika Andrade PR photo
Stephanie N. Morales, in the polka dot shirt, stands in her grandmother’s house where she used to live before Hurricane Maria destroyed it. Merika Andrade worked with Ben Kreimer to reconstructed the house in virtual reality.

by Alli Inglebright

Storytelling can take many forms, and students at the College of Journalism and Mass Communications learn a variety of ways to tell stories. Two students are exploring new ways to use technology to tell stories in a more immersive way.

Merika Andrade is exploring how to use virtual reality and 360 video to create a fully immersive experience for viewers. This will allow viewers to be in the subjects’ environment, through the use of a headset, while hearing their story.

“I grew up a person of color and have experienced people speaking for myself, others or just completely overlooking us,” Andrade said. “This will allow people to tell their own story, and viewers can experience it in said person’s environment.”

Gabriella Parsons is creating a platform to house Andrade’s and other students’ work in a more permanent and sustainable way. She is working with CoJMC professor Matt Waite to build a website that will archive projects from the Global Eyewitness program and other journalism classes.

“This will allow students and others from around the world to have access to the stories,” Parsons said. “The stories are produced and will be seen in a more effective way than just publishing them on Youtube. This way people will be able to experience them and return to them in a centralized location.”

Both students were part of the Global Eyewitness program that traveled to Puerto Rico over the holiday break. They opted to stay on the island a week longer to capture locals’ stories using drone and VR technology.

Andrade and Parsons spent time on the island of Vieques, off Puerto Rico’s eastern coast, documenting the lives of the people who live there. They used 360 video and drones to take photos from every possible angle. The photos are stitched together by a software program that creates a VR experience. Viewers will be able to put on a headset and experience the subjects’ environment.

Andrade said they mapped a woman’s house that is still in ruins from Hurricane Maria so viewers can walk around inside the house while hearing her story. These tools allow journalists to elevate their storytelling platform.

“Technology allows you to do so many cool things,” Andrade said. “The things you dream of can be achieved if you put in the effort and use the tools that you have. This allows storytelling to happen in an whole new way and offers people a platform to share their own story. You’ll be able to see what people are going through and hear from them in their own voice.”

Work like Andrade’s often gets lost in the massive amount of work produced by the Global Eyewitness program and other journalism classes. Parsons is working to correct that with the website she is building.

Currently, work produced by the students in the Global Eyewitness program is showcased during a screening event where funds are raised to send back to the communities they worked with. The work is posted on different blogs, becomes fragmented and is forgotten over time.

“Storytelling is a process and a lot of attention is lost in the post production phase,” Parsons said. “Getting stories out there is a really big task to wrestle with. The event premiers the work but that’s just one aspect. The website will solidify the event and bring the stories into a space with more longevity and impact.”

Andrade and Parsons both feel their work is bigger than themselves. They hope their stories and the website will allow others to experience journalism is a more authentic way, thereby having a greater impact on the subjects.

“Students are told no so many times when we present ideas,” Andrade said. “We are told to become and work towards something that is possible rather than impossible. Were not always encouraged to live our big dreams. It’s time to break through that to discover a new way to tell stories. Technology is allowing us to do that.”