Creating an Engaging Online Course Using Virtual Reality and 360° Video

Concurrent Session 4
Streamed Session

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Session Materials

Brief Abstract

This presentation will discuss how the Office of Distributed Learning is working with faculty to create engaging immersive teaching environments in online courses using virtual reality and 360° video.


Trena Houp serves as the Associate Director for the Office of Distributed Learning (ODL). She works collaboratively with and provides support to faculty, academic units, and other affiliate support units to further the growth of distributed learning courses and programs. Prior to joining USC, Trena served as a Program Manager in the Division of Academic Affairs and Licensing at the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education (CHE) where she worked primarily with matters of academic policy and program review as well as managed several projects in the areas of secondary-to-postsecondary transition, curriculum alignment, transfer and articulation, and distance education. She also served as an instructor at the University of Florida where she developed and taught online courses in Technical Writing, Advanced Exposition, and Professional (Business) Writing.
Karen Edwards is the Faculty Associate Director for Distributed Learning Pedagogy at the University’s Center for Teaching Excellence. She is also is a senior instructor in the Department of Retailing, where she teaches retail- and law-related courses in both online and face-to-face formats. Through USC's Center for Teaching Excellence, she develops and facilitates workshops and individualized coaching on effective teaching techniques and other issues affecting higher education. Ms. Edwards is certified by Quality Matters® to review and assess the quality of online courses offered by higher education institutions. She earned her Juris Doctor Degree from the University of South Carolina School of Law and her Bachelor's degree from Coker College in Hartsville, South Carolina.

Extended Abstract

This presentation will discuss how the Office of Distributed Learning is working with faculty to create engaging immersive teaching environments in online courses by implementing virtual reality experiences and selecting, creating, and editing 360° video. Cook and Gregory (2018) suggest that the emerging technology with the most potential to impact higher education is augmented, virtual, and mixed reality. The Goldman Sachs Group estimates that technology could reach 15 million students by 2025 and become a $700 million market for education (2016). Virtual reality provides an immersive experience (e.g., videogames and movies) or simulates presence in a real-world environment (e.g., watching a sporting event or visiting a foreign location) and, according to Educause, can enhance learning by providing a new learning experience and bringing people together (2015).

This presentation will discuss the use of two technology tools - 360° video and a virtual reality social platform (ENGAGE) - to create immersive experiences in an online course. ENGAGE was chosen because it allows educators to host meetings, classes, and presentations with people from all over the world in a safe, virtual, multi-user environment. The presenters will explain that they became interested in using virtual reality for online courses because many peer institutions are experimenting with virtual reality and we believe that virtual reality will be more prevalent in online courses in the future. In technological revolutions, most of the changes are in how we do things, not what we do (Drucker, 2002) and online education, which was a disruptive force 25 years ago (Schroeder, 2019), may be disrupted in the near future through the increasing use of virtual reality.

Virtual reality devices are expected to increase 85% by 2020, with gaming and educational applications driving most of that growth (Ravipati, 2017). Virtual reality is also on the edge of becoming mainstream, with software development outstripping the hardware and memory storage needed. Many proponents of virtual reality believe it may transform learning and student experiences because the technologies surrounding virtual reality may ultimately transform the ways in which we teach, learn, engage with each other, and experience the world (Sinclair, 2016). As these capabilities continue to evolve, ABI Research anticipates high-end virtual reality, which is currently exclusive to PC and game consoles, to expand to mobile-powered uses by 2020 (2016). ABI Research also predicts that Google Cardboard is just the beginning; in the years to come, independent growth across mobile devices, wearables, gaming, advertising, and data will all synergize and power the next stage of transformational growth in mobile virtual reality (2016).

360° video was used because the presenters believe it is an effective, low-cost tool to increase engagement, which several studies have shown is considered an important predictor of student achievement (e.g., Abel, 2007; Handelsman, 2005). In addition, Cook and Gregory (2018) echo the assertion made by Bitter and Corral (2014) that 360° video, augmented reality and virtual reality are pedagogically sound and will become pervasive in education because they lend well to adaption to mobile and wearable technologies, which allow students to engage in anywhere, anytime learning. Ninety-two percent of 18- to 29-year-olds own a smartphone (Smith, 2018) and while students still prefer laptops for accessing course content, students are increasingly using smartphones to access online course content because of convenience and ease of use (Dello Stritto, 2018). According to a recent study, 98% of those who preferred using smartphones for accessing online courses cited convenience as a reason for the preference compared to only 41% of those who preferred using desktops and 56% of those who preferred laptops (Dello Stritto, 2018).  Students only need a smartphone and cardboard viewer to experience virtual reality while watching 360° video. Furthermore, a recent Google advertising campaign found that 360° video motivated viewers to both watch and interact more compared to a normal video (Metry, 2017), thus, the presenters believe that incorporating 360° video into higher education courses is a low cost way to enhance the engagement of students and therefore increase student learning.

The presenters will begin the presentation by describing the 360° video, augmented reality, and virtual reality resources and professional development opportunities available to faculty at our University. Then, the presenters will discuss how the Office of Distributed Learning assists interested faculty in selecting, creating, and editing 360° video as well as implementing virtual reality in online and blended courses. They will also provide examples of ways in which to implement 360° video and virtual reality into online and blended courses to increase learner engagement with course content as well as share existing 360° video resources. The presenters will also demonstrate how 360° video and ENGAGE (a virtual reality platform) are being used in a specific course, Asset Protection for Retailers, including discussing visual design and content selection decisions made for the 360° videos and the virtual reality experiences, and showing how they created the immersive environment used in the course. The presenters will discuss how they address accessibility issues and ways in which the virtual reality platform promotes learner interaction. The faculty member teaching the course will also discuss how the use of 360° videos and virtual reality experiences enhances the course and increases student engagement.

The presenters will encourage participants to ask questions while they describe the development of the specific course demonstrated using virtual reality and 360° video. The presenters will also poll the audience to see how many have used virtual reality or 360° videos in their courses and provide those who have done so with an opportunity to briefly share their experiences as well. The presenters will also bring some cardboard viewers and virtual reality headsets to allow audience members to experience virtual reality while viewing some of the content created for the online course discussed. 

Participants will leave the presentation with a better understanding of how to use 360° video and virtual reality in an online course. The presenters will also share a list of existing 360° videos appropriate for use in higher education courses.