Students use 360-degree cameras to capture issues

By: Eric Czarnik | Shelby - Utica News | Published December 21, 2017

UTICA — Utica Community Schools students are looking at fresh ways to examine issues from every angle.

The school district recently arranged for each of its high schools’ video production classes to get involved with the 360 Filmmakers Challenge, a video contest by the nonprofit group Digital Promise that asks students to make films about various topics and issues. On its website, the nonprofit says its purpose is to expand and improve methods of learning by closing the digital learning gap and broadening student access to technology.

Students who are part of the Utica Center for Mathematics, Science and Technology or the Utica Center for Science and Industry also are invited to participate and use the special filmmaking tools.

UCS officials say the district is one of five entities in Michigan to be part of the program, and they credit Digital Promise for providing the equipment.

Utica High School art teacher Joshua Etheridge said his multimedia class has been tackling the 360-degree filmmaking techniques, which involve recording a scene from every view simultaneously using multiple cameras or an omnidirectional camera. He said the students have been working on it for around a month, and he explained that some students have just completed a film about obsessive-compulsive disorder.

“It’s kind of a darker-type video, but very powerful at the same time,” Etheridge said. “The purpose of doing it in 360-degree video (is) it really puts you in the viewer’s mindset, the mind’s eye, because you’re completely immersed in it. You’re almost experiencing it along with them.”

The students are working on other topics, such as animal adoption and drug abuse, he added. Etheridge believes that this type of filming is increasingly becoming mainstream, adding that it has huge educational implications and is good for exploring underwater scenes. That is because the technology lets viewers rotate the field of view around them, so they can see what’s going on from different angles.

He added that 360-degree films can be seen on YouTube or, more immersively, through virtual reality goggles.

However, he said it’s not easy to learn the new technology, such as the 360-degree camera stick.

“The camera is set up with a lens on the front and a lens on the back. It’s basically like a fisheye lens,” he said. “It’s about the size of a cellphone. They set it up on a tripod, and they basically just have to be aware of all the surroundings. ... There was a big learning curve for this.”

Rhea Payne, a sophomore at Utica High School, described the learning curve and praised the technology’s benefits.

“You can’t be in the room while you’re filming,” she explained. “It definitely took some time, but once you know how to do it, it’s really worth it, for sure.”

Find out more about Utica Community Schools by visiting www.uticak12.org or by calling (586) 797-1000. Find out more about Digital Promise by visiting www.digitalpromise.org.