Exploring VR journalism in higher education

Bachelor students in Media City Bergen explored the expressive range of VR journalism and produced valuable research insights for Vismedia.


Main content

In the winter of 2018, students at the University of Bergen produced immersive journalism with a combination of 360-video, animation and sound design. Users must wear VR glasses and headphones to experience this type of news story, and if the narrative is well made users can be immersed in an aspect of the real world.

Here we present four original three-minute VR experiences. We invite you to experience these VR-stories for yourself by clicking on the links below. You can have the experience with any kind of VR glasses or Cardboards.

Innovation pedagogy

Innovation pedagogy is a based on the principle of active learning; and it means that students learn by having responsibility for the creative process in group collaboration. The students were trained to be able to test rich forms of storytelling, and they were encouraged to explore any and all expressions and techniques they could think of.

Vismedia has previously experimented with innovation pedagogy for drones, and you can read more in the article "Taking risks with drones. Responsible innovation pedagogy for media education" (https://www.taylorfrancis.com/books/e/9781351671828).

The productions were made for the course INFOMEVI173 Journalistic prototyping (https://www.uib.no/emne/INFOMEVI173). Lars Nyre was the course leader. The practical skills were taught by lecturers Joakim Vindenes, Fahmy Zulfikar and Audun Klyve Gulbrandsen.

Lecturers at Volda University College are also exploring VR journalism in student courses. Ana Sanchez Laws and Tormod Utne have run several courses were they challenge students to make historical and documentary VR stories. Read more here (https://www.smp.no/meninger/kronikk/2018/02/09/«Virtuelle-muligheter-og-farer-i-journalistikken»-16060729.ece).

Unmistakably journalistic

The pedagogical process resulted in four very different VR stories who were all nevertheless unmistakably journalistic. This was partly due to limitations set after discussions with journalism expert Kristine Holmelid and ethical theorist Lars Arve Røssland. In order to be journalistic the narratives had to 1) have proper sources and be truthful, 2) careful about using hidden microphones and cameras, 3) cannot not violate people's right to privacy.

There were five plenary sessions over the semester where we discussed the projects. The students had guidance and good discussions that fed into the creative process until the next meeting.

Prolific idea generation

In the finished narratives there are fewer expressive tricks than were up for consideration during the production phase. The groups had to reduce the number of novelties to make the projects realistic to complete.

One student reports: "In the early storyboard phase we had many ideas that we got rid of, but also many new ones we brought into the production. In the fourth workshop we also showed our projects to fellow students for the first time. This was an important even. The fact that someone tested what we had made us notice things that did not work".

One example is that many users have never tried VR before and want to get to know their surroundings, which meant that they looked around in all directions and did not catch important narrative events. "We also discovered which parts of the story that worked well".


Innovative in an international context

We belive the student projects presented below are truly innovative, and VR environments around the world should learn about them.

First, the projects are innovative in a national perspective. Teknisk Ukeblad explored VR journalism for several years after receiving a Google DNS grant in 2016 (SJEKK), and they wrote several articles with valuable technical advice based on their experience. We took their advice into consideration when planning and executing this course, and this saved us from making many unnecessary mistakes.

Secondly, the projects were inspired by internationally renown productions like Francesca Panetta's "6x9" in the Guardian. This is an immersive experience of being in solitary confinement in a high security prison.


Research articles

The production process was documented by Vismedia researchers, and we now have a rich data material that can give us insights into the expressive register of VR journalism, and how to teach new transgressive technologies like VR media. The insights will be reported in scientific articles as part of the Vismedia portfolio.

Plastic - enlightenment for children

Produced by Trym Røed Arvesen, Michael Fabregas Breien, Jonathan Lindø Meling, Ida Charlotte Solvig and Helene Sofie Borthen Stenstadvold.

The narrative deals with the environmental crisis, and can be said to belong to the genre "educational program for children". The story is based on journalistic research into pollution, recirculation and other environmental issues. The user experiences first enters a beautiful Norwegian beach, and is drawn into an interactive narrative that teaches you about the problem with plastic pollution, and what can be done to reduce it. The narrative somehow resembles a playground.

Mathias Haukjem

Storyboard by Mathias Haukjem

The football pitch slowly fills up with plastic objects, and the user is immersed in all the plastic. In the last scene you can choose different fact boxes that provide information about plastic and the environment. The story starts in a gloomy way but ends with saying that all hope is not gone.

Drug addiction - social realism from the street

Produced by Erlend Skorpetveit Aga,Mathias Dyrkolbotn Haukjem, Stian Holm Nordahl and Preben Ørpetveit Solberg.

This is a first person narrative where you are immersed in the grim life of a drug addict who staggers through the street, takes the bus, buys drugs and takes an overdose. The story is based on research and conversations with drug addicts.

The narrative can be said to belong to the genre socially realistic reporting. It gives us intense glimpses of life and death in the drug scene in Bergen. The group had to handle ethical issues regarding identification, and used actors to recreate the life of a drug addict. The experience is very realistic and therefore quite frightening - especially the scene when the protagonist puts a syringe in his arm.

Cryonics - entertaining science journalism

Produced by Vemund Fjeld, Stine Olsen Helland, Edvard Muli Langen and Malene Berg Sundsøy.

The user experience is centered on being dead and cryonically frozen, and while lying there you get different opinions about such life-prolonging technology from a priest, ethician, physician and X. The story is based on research and interviews with the abovementioned experts.

An original feature is that the user can choose which person to listen to by hovering over an icon.

The speakers provide thorough arguments for their respective positions, and the content is educational. The theme of the story has high journalistic relevance, but it is difficult to point out the genre. It is a kind of information program that asks critical questions about freezing, but there are no conclusions.

Schizophrenia - an educational horror story

Produced by
Ingvild Vara Hagen, Sindre Haveland, Simen Larsen Johansen, Andrea Iversen Karlsen, Martin Norvoll and Ida Charlotte Solvig.

The user is situated in a normal apartment, and during three scenes with increasingly hallucinatory impressions, gets a strong impression of what schizofrenia feels like. There are noisy voices saying bad things like encouraging you to take your life. If the user looks at certain objects in the VR environment things start to evolve. The cheese on the bread grows holes, paintings on the wall chance content when you look at them, and there are spiders coming up from the washroom sluk.

It's hard to point out the genre of the story. In one way it is a socially realistic report based on interviews with doctors and patients, but the dissemination of the psychiatric disorder almost takes the form of horror. The hallucinations are noisy and realistic and often appear suddenly with a somewhat scary effect.