Simulations for Online Learning: Getting Started with 360 Video

simulations for online learning

The rise of home-based care created a need for students enrolled in the online RN to BSN nursing program at Penn State World Campus to gain an authentic experience of evaluating a home environment to determine if the setting would be suitable to administer effective patient care. Immersive simulations through 360 video provided the solution.

We decided to set up a home similar to what a homecare provider might find in visiting a patient. We recorded videos in three main areas of the home: the kitchen, living room, and bathroom. Each room contained props that would be relevant to a decision to administer homecare. Students first explored a room on their own using their computer, cell phone, or cell phone with a headset, such as a $10 Google Cardboard Camera. Students made observations on their own, and then took a guided tour that pointed out elements of the environment that they needed to identify. After making their observations, the student produced a report with recommendations on administering homecare, which they submitted for evaluation and grading.

Creating 360 videos for education

The first step in creating the videos for our nursing students was getting buy in and support from the faculty and program administrators. Virtual Reality can be intimidating for faculty, so we conducted an informal presentation with program stakeholders and faculty where we dispelled any misconceptions about VR and 360 video. More importantly, we showed a demonstration of what 360 video can look like and allowed them to experience it in headset devices.

Our team then moved on to the ideation and conceptualizing phases where instructional designers worked closely with the course faculty to identify the use case, brainstorm, script, and storyboard. One of the bigger challenges we faced was working with the production logistics. We needed somebody to “donate” their home for the video shoot, which was difficult to find. We had to ensure that the potential home environments could be adapted for our use case. We had to ensure we had the right props and items to stage the environment. Each potential shooting location had to be evaluated for proper lighting and sound quality.

We started out looking to develop a cost-friendly proof of concept. This led our team to invest in the Nikon KeyMission 360 camera. Shooting at 4k, capturing both stills and video, and with a simple point and shoot approach, it made it a great entry-level 360 camera at a nominal price point of $300-$400. There was little work needed in post-production in terms of “stitching” due to the two lenses that are used to capture the 360 videos.

Like with any video project, post production is needed. Led by our multimedia specialists, they were able to trim video and adjust volume levels as needed, adjust the initial starting point of the 360 videos, and make minor changes in overall lighting. Using Adobe Premiere, we were able to add subtle highlights of objects or areas addressed as they were discussed in the guided video. This provided an additional focal point for students as they toured the areas.

We used YouTube to host the videos, due to the cost and general familiarity that students have with YouTube (both desktop and mobile). The videos were embedded into content pages within the LMS to be experienced in a desktop browser. Additional instructions were provided for students to watch videos via mobile device and/or headset devices such as the Google Cardboard. This allowed students some flexibility in how they engaged the media. By default, they can always use their desktop browser, but if a headset device is available to them, they can have a more VR-like experience with the added element of immersion that a headset provides.

Additionally, we began to experiment with adding spatial audio to improve the impact of sound on the immersive experience. Most videos include a standard audio track that is attached and played over the visuals. This type of standard audio track is consistent throughout the video being played. Spatial audio changes with the movement of the user’s head or the point of view taken. For instance, as a user moves their head to the left or right, a sound or voice may become louder or softer as the orientation is changed. Think about when you walk around room. Sounds can be different depending upon where you are or the position you are facing. This type of audio can add value to VR and 360 video by adding another element of immersion that can create a more authentic experience.

Introducing 360 videos to students and plans for future growth

To address the potential knowledge gap for students related to VR and immersive video, we provided information introducing the concept of 360 video in the course orientation. This allowed students to prepare for the activity later in the course, but also generated some excitement about the upcoming use of media in their course.

Students found the activity to be engaging and effective but wanted the quality to be improved. The continuing drop in price and increase in quality of VR headsets, such as the Oculus Go, allow us to explore using higher quality video that are best viewed with VR headsets, rather than the Google Cardboard headset. We thus invested in a higher quality 360 camera, the Go Pro Omni, which shoots at 8k with 6 lenses. With a higher price tag of $3,000 to $5,000, it was an investment we felt comfortable making based on the positive feedback we got from students.

The next steps include increasing the interactivity of the videos with hot spots that students can click to pull up more information or zoom in to see additional detail. We’re also looking at linking immersive videos with decision-based branching, which would take students to different scenarios based on how they react. As we see the technology get better and prices come down, it will be interesting to see how VR impacts education, specifically online education.

Clarifying terms

It is important to clarify terms, as “virtual reality” is used in different ways. Some, like us, use the term “virtual reality” to refer to only computer generated, animated environments. This is the original definition of the term that came from applications like Second Life, which were artificial worlds. We use the term “360 video” to refer to immersive, but real, environments, like tours of historic landmarks in Google’s Expeditions. Thus, we term our content “360 videos” because students tour actual homes.

Others use the term “virtual reality” in a broader sense to encompasses both real and artificial immersive environments, such as apps like New York Times VR. Any split image video that requires a headset to view is “VR” under this definition. The term “360 video” is then used to refer to the Google Street View-like videos that are viewed without a headset and can be manipulated.

Watch for these different meanings of the term “VR” in articles about virtual reality and 360 video. We chose 360 videos because they are easy to shoot and can be viewed with or without a headset.

Bill Egan is a senior instructional designer at Penn State World Campus

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