College of Communication Arts and Sciences to use virtual reality as teaching tool
The Communication Arts and Sciences, or CAS, Building is set to unveil a new addition that will utilize emerging virtual and augmented reality technology.
Stacey Fox, a transdisciplinary artist-in-residence at MSU, has worked on a number of projects utilizing this technology. She is most active in the teaching and use of “trans-media” stories with multiple different media components, which includes her courses on animation recently introduced to the School of Journalism.
“For the newsroom, the idea is to have a professional industry-style newsroom experience for all the students in journalism,” Fox said. “So the room will serve as an active production area for classes to be held in, and also there will be a functioning news studio with cameras and the whole thing.”
Virtual and augmented reality technology has been around the newsroom for quite some time, though the degree of sophistication has greatly improved through the years. Augmented reality has been more common, one example being visual data displays projected into the newsroom for the anchor to point and refer to.
Full virtual reality is somewhat new to the field, at least in terms of making it readily available to a large number of people. The New York Times, for example, has created a mobile app that allows readers to explore the location of their stories in full 360 degree view.
The immersive studio aims to give students tools similar to those used by professional outlets like CNN. Green screen technology, for example, allows outlets like CNN to superimpose their reporter onto a virtual background. While green screen will be a part of the studio, Fox is more excited about another aspect of the studio.
“This is my favorite area, this is the motion capture system,” she said. “So with the motion capture studio, we can take people right off the street and it will capture their body movement and immediately put it onto a skeletal structure.”
The potential applications for this are far-reaching. One example Fox used was taking an athlete, recording their movement then having that athlete pop out on a mobile app when viewed later.
“We have a project we’re going to be working with the Smithsonian with the motion capture, which is a pretty big deal,” Fox said. “We’re going to bring in artists and different people, dancers and musicians, and watch how they move and record them so that forever they will be documented.”
Off to the side of the motion capture area, Fox said there will be a production workspace for MSU’s top-ranked game design program. Movement data from the motion capture studio will be used as animations to be input into games, Fox said.
Another feature of the studio, though not exactly high tech, is its open viewing nature. Like the television studio, students and the general public will be able to see the immersive studio in action through large glass windows.
“The nice thing about this is that we’re very much about openness,” Fox said. “We want the public to come — it’s exciting for people to see process.”
Ground will be broken this May for the studio and students will begin usage in September.
Dr. Lucinda Davenport, director of the School of Journalism, ground is expected to be broken in May. By September, students should be able to use the facilities there for projects and other needs with classes expected to start in January 2017.
Davenport expects most of the infrastructure to be in place by the fall. Her hope is that journalism students, some who would be writing on a major election for the first time, will have the best tools at their disposal to do so.
"We hope to be again the state of Michigan's largest newsroom covering the presidential election," she said. "We were in 2012 and we're going to be bigger and better in 2016 and so we hope to have all of our students...to use that space to comment and cover the presidential elections."
Perhaps most importantly for Davenport and others, the new studio will help keep MSU's journalism program one of the best nationwide.
"Basically everyone, faculty and students, are very excited about this because our school of journalism is here to make students successful, to be leaders and visionaries of the industry," she That's what that newsroom will help us do."