Stepping into a virtual gallery, where portraits come alive and narrate their captivating tales, may sound like a plot straight out of Harry Potter. However, this remarkable scenario is a reality within Retha Hill’s classroom. As the executive director of the Cronkite School’s New Media Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab, Retha Hill introduced SUSI scholars to a groundbreaking approach, utilizing cutting-edge technology to craft immersive storytelling experiences that capture the attention of younger generations.
Retha highlighted that Arizona State University (ASU) has made substantial investments, amounting to millions of dollars, in immersive learning. Collaborating with renowned companies like Pixar, ASU is constantly exploring innovative methods of education. This enables them to establish strong connections with their students. In a rapidly evolving landscape, recent news of Apple’s Vision Pro release emphasized its potential for work and entertainment, without specifically mentioning its application for news content. This prompts us to consider how we can leverage this cutting-edge technology to tell captivating stories. It serves as the next crucial phase for us to contemplate.
Retha suggested that immersive storytelling can be employed in practical journalism, aiming to create an emotional connection that makes people unable to live without it. She further presents a heartwarming use case for virtual reality: capturing the essence of our loved ones before they pass away. Just imagine being able to summon their presence whenever you wish, offering a practical and comforting way to revisit cherished memories. This concept resonates with the fundamental idea behind newspapers, where readers can connect with individuals and stories. It represents a promising direction for future exploration in this industry.
However, this topic triggered introspection regarding the age-old question: Does emotional journalism undermine objectivity? The power of immersive storytelling lies in its ability to evoke emotions more readily, leading to concerns about how the media can shield young individuals from violent or intense content. Nonetheless, akin to the approach taken by television stations and movies, content creators have the potential to exclude certain plotlines that are of lesser importance or deemed unsuitable. Research indicates that immersive journalism elicits a strong sense of empathy towards the characters involved. Moreover, it emphasizes the pivotal role of virtually mediated environments in delivering immersive journalism experiences, enhancing the feeling of presence and establishing a profound connection between users and the characters (Mariia Kukkakorpi & Mervi Pantti, 2021).
Following that, Fox Bonilla, the co-founder and CTO of Baltu Technologies, joined us to share captivating insights about the metaverse. He put forth the idea that if we view the world through computers, everything becomes an integral part of the computer itself. This concept paints a picture of a future where computations happen at astonishing speeds, freeing up more time for humans to focus on content creation. Alejandro Vargas Johansson, a scholar from Costa Rica, expressed astonishment when Fox Bonilla suggested that the 16-year duration typically spent within the education system could potentially be condensed to just a few years with the help of AI.
However, before delving into the exciting future of digital storytelling, it is imperative for us, as journalists, teachers, and researchers, to familiarize ourselves with the tools at hand. In our classes, we have the opportunity to explore the creation of captivating galleries using generative AI apps like Midjourney, spatial.io, D-ID, and Canva. What’s even more remarkable is that some of these tools are available for free, and the best part is that you don’t need any coding background to produce these incredible works. It’s like magic! Thus, this could be easier to teach students and let them try. I used to ask my students use Wix to make their own website, now we have more options.
Although Retha Hill and Fox Bonilla endorse using AI and other emerging technologies in storytelling, they emphasize the importance of responsible usage.