I WAS INTRODUCED
to virtual reality videos several years ago when I downloaded a roller coaster application and slid my phone into Google Cardboard, a fold-out cardboard viewing device. As I looked in all directions, I felt my stomach turn as if I was riding an actual roller coaster. The app was free and the cardboard device cost about $20.
That experience started me wondering whether this technology could be leveraged to benefit communication strategies in our school district.
Our 3,500-student district in the suburbs west of Chicago does not employ a communications director so many of those responsibilities fall on our building and district administrative staff. I decided to experiment with this technology and purchased a 360-degree camera for about $120. That camera plugs into my cell phone and allows me to capture videos that can be viewed in the same way as the original roller coaster I experienced.
As I began shooting videos, I uploaded them to YouTube and shared them with our staff and our community through e-mails and social media posts. Instead of riding on roller coasters, the viewers have been able to attend sporting events and pep rallies through my eyes. They have been able to walk behind the scenes of our district’s construction projects and more.
In each video, the viewer can use either YouTube and their computer’s cursor or their phones to look in all directions. If they use virtual reality headgear, they find themselves fully immersed in those experiences.
School districts need effective strategies for connecting with stakeholders. The communication can take many forms: face-to-face meetings, websites, e-mails, newsletters, press releases and more. When I watch my own children consume information, their preferred medium is video. That suggests we continually need to evolve our organization’s communication to meet our audiences wherever they are.
As we strive to be relevant to our community, 360-degree virtual reality videos seem to be a logical evolution of those strategies.
To give this a try, I suggest you start by watching existing videos. Search YouTube with the terms “360” or “VR.” Use your smartphone to travel to far-off places, see exotic animals and visit historic sites. Begin to imagine what your community could experience to help you tell your school district’s story.
This technology can also be a game changer in the classroom. Students can use virtual reality to take an immersive tour of the Eiffel Tower, travel inside the human body and look in all directions or view a live re-enactment of the Civil War. There are virtual reality experiences for virtually all places and topics.
Proceed With Care
As in all things we do, be mindful of your district’s policies and procedures. If you have students whose families have not granted permission to be the subject of photography or videography, you need to be extra careful with 360-degree video. When you begin filming, you are not only capturing what is in front of you, but also what is happening on either side of you, behind you, above you and below you.
Also, you may need to provide some level of education with your school community regarding how to access and fully experience your new video communications.
The best feedback I’ve received so far came from one of our support staff members who lives in our community. She stopped me in the building one day to explain that when I send out 360-degree updates of our construction projects, she always shares those videos with her neighbors. They enjoy seeing how their tax dollars are being spent, and they feel able to go behind the scenes with what is happening on the other side of those construction fences.
That type of feedback is priceless. Have some fun by experimenting with this modern way to connect with your community.
(Find our 360-degree videos at www.youtube.com/channel/UCOw7czol5V0c0YSQhPSo3kA
is superintendent of Leyden School District 212 in Franklin Park, Ill. Twitter: @npolyak