The virtual reality (VR) industry has had its share of fits and spurts in recent years, and technology is just now at a level to consistently bring a developer’s vision to life, their work complimented by a complex network capable of beaming their immersive experiences to millions of VR headsets worldwide. But despite the recent and significant evolution of immersive storytelling, the role of VR video played back in a head-mounted display is still confusing.

We’ve seen VR cameras become much more accessible in the market, both from reduced cost as well as a flattening learning curve needed to use these systems. Yet, even seasoned creators are confused by the various creative tools available to them, including video formats. The Winter Olympics and the World Cup were broadcast in VR to mixed reviews, while the box office hit Ready Player One inspired millions by fueling their curiosity of how VR will eventually affect the masses. Despite so many bright minds dabbling in VR creation, and early adopters consuming their ground breaking experiences, something is still missing.

The industry will cross the chasm by inspiring a new generation of visual storytellers, trained differently than the technologists and programmers enabling VR today. This new wave of creators will bring to VR what is currently lacking: stories, emotion, dialogue, influence, message, and most importantly, craft. All with a VR camera system as easy to use as a traditional DSLR. So where will we find these next generation creators? In the classroom.

VR takes a seat in the classroom

Colleges and universities, middle and high schools, and even vocational tech programs throughout North America, are beginning to put VR tools into their students’ hands. But it shouldn’t be just the IT, computer science, and programming classes. More important, given today’s technology, any visual creator can develop fully immersive content, designed and created to be fully experienced in a VR headset. Without the need to be a programmer, more time can be spent creating in VR versus learning VR, which opens a VR ecosystem rooted in visual communication and not solely computer programming.

For example, journalism students at the University of Oklahoma are currently learning how to develop news reports and broadcasts in VR as part of their curriculum. The value of experimenting in the classroom before deploying VR technology in the field can’t be understated, and in this case, expands the journalists’ roles and introduces new complexities when reporting the news.

Traditional journalists tell stories within a single photo or the fixed frame of traditional video, but a VR camera records an entire scene in stereo 3D, 360-degrees, evolving the journalist’s responsibilities. In the old days, and by that I mean a year ago, a journalist would report using their lens in a fixed field of view, telling a specific story. In VR, journalists must learn to guide our discovery in new ways, allowing us to experience everything they see and hear in the field, but packaging all of that information and context into news stories we can digest.

Students to write the next chapter of VR storytelling

In essence, these students are learning the ins and outs of the equipment and what to consider when producing an immersive story. As this next-generation of visual communicators enters the workplace, they will guide their colleagues and editors to experience stories in ways that have yet been considered; establishing VR storytelling as commonplace; creating engaging experiences that people will want to consume in a headset.

The future of the VR industry sits squarely on the next-generation of creators, and those creators exist well beyond the schools and programs that have traditionally focused on technology and visual arts. Regardless of the educational institution, whether it’s computer programming, finance, biology, health sciences, marketing, communication or journalism, the goal is the same: put the knowledge base and application tools of VR in the hands of educators and students alike; bringing the newest form of visual communication to the masses. Today’s students are tomorrow’s new hires; following graduation they’ll champion visual strategies that transform corporations, through improved communications, reducing operating costs, establishing training programs and even transacting business in VR.

Invest in education to drive VR growth

So, what do we do as the technologists, the current leaders of the new realities of VR, AR, and MR? It’s easy as an industry to get caught up in the challenges facing the VR ecosystem, but if we become disillusioned, we risk not seizing the moment nor building on the momentum that is underway with learning institutions across the country. As an industry, we can’t wait until VR is fully defined, or until the next best headset comes around, or until the killer VR content or app arrives. We must get involved now and chart the course of innovation.

What’s in it for us? Today’s students are continuously creating visual content and documenting their every move and daily life — more so than any generation before – and they’re doing so in ways that their family, friends, fans and followers can digest through the likes of Instagram and Snapchat. As these future storytellers create more immersive content they’ll define the craft of VR storytelling; in return, the VR industry will stimulate their creative drive with the products, services, and display technologies they’ll need to adopt and develop VR.

Don’t sit this one out waiting for the future to be defined. Get involved now with an educational program at any education level: by doing so, you’ll help pave the way for a dynamic and creative generation to define the future of visual innovation. Injecting new technology into the hands of students empowers an entire generation to make the impossible, possible. Let’s make virtual reality a reality… together.

VR will get its killer apps — but not from today’s developersJim Malcolm brings more than two decades of imaging, virtual reality (VR) and consumer products experience to his role as General Manager, North America, at Humaneyes.

Copyright © 2020 Jim Malcolm All rights reserved.
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