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By Kelly Newton, Journalism senior
A new virtual reality class at Texas State was born out of a passion for storytelling. Jon Zmikly designed it as a way for students to learn a fun, innovative way to share stories that go beyond traditional media.
“It came out of an excitement for the platform, as well as an excitement for storytelling and new forms of (it),” Zmikly said.
Zmikly, who teaches as part of the Digitial Media Innovation sequence, had his first experience with virtual reality at SXSW, where he tried an immersive Oculus Rift headset simulating different views around a concert. From there, he was hooked.
“It had video, it had sound. I felt like I was there,” Zmikly said. “To me, it was that moment of, like, ‘wow.’ This is something. I’ve heard people say that ‘wow’ moment hasn’t come to technology since the dawn of the iPhone.”
Zmikly teaches courses with a focus on technology, like Media Design and Coding and Data Skills. He believes virtual reality has not yet become an essential tool for journalists. Instead, the class focuses on using virtual reality and 360 videos and if a story will be best served by that medium.
“I don’t think this is going to be the next thing,” Zmikly said. “Like, not everything’s going to be on VR, but some things will. So, you have to figure out what elements should be 360 videos in your story.”
Zmikly believes learning the tools of virtual reality and 360 video techniques could serve any career, as it is a growing innovation. Companies across industries have been incorporating it into marketing strategies.
“I think it can be useful no matter what field you go into. It’s a useful tool to learn, but it’s also just a fun new way to do storytelling,” Zmikly said.
From time-lapse to storytelling
For the class, students begin with a time-lapse project to learn how to work with the 360 video cameras. This, according to Zmikly, is meant to familiarize with the technology. Throughout the semester, students work with cameras like the Kodak PixPro, the Ricoh Theta S and a six-camera GoPro rig.
The first section of the course began in January. Joshua Mends, senior, was excited to hand in his first project.
“I think it’s good just to have the knowledge,” Mends said. “I just made my first 360 video last week, and I think it’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.”
Charity Valverde, a Digital Media Innovation major, thinks this exposure to new technology is a necessity for future media professionals.
“I think it’s important for students to stay up to date with new and emerging technology,” Valverde said. “VR will not only immerse you in this new user experience but provides ways to bring people together as a whole.”
Mends agree that media professionals must stay ahead of new storytelling trends.
“We as communicators have to be in the know about so many things, and we have to be able to use any and every means to connect and get our message across,” Mends said. “Technology is growing every day, and we can’t get left behind.”
The future of the class (and VR)
Fast-paced innovation means that this course will have to adapt with the changing technology. Zmikly recalls filming 360 videos for Texas State last year using six-camera GoPro rigs. He would then stitch all six videos together to create the content. Today, a year later, the technology has improved so rapidly that stitching is no longer necessary in most cases.
The first few weeks of class have generated interest among mass communication students, and Zmikly is excited to see where the class will go.
“Just in the first month of class, I’ve been really excited to see how students have been excited,” Zmikly said. “And it seems like they really have appreciated the innovative aspects of the class. They’ve really risen to the challenge.”
Students say this excitement is in large part due to Zmikly’s teaching.
“Jon is a great instructor,” Valverde said. “He makes this stuff seem easy.”
More information on the course, and examples of student projects can be found on the course website.