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November 9, 2017

Teaching at Pitt

360 Video Can Enhance Your Teaching

As instructors who are passionate about our disciplines, we are always looking for ways to bring our material alive and to actively engage our students. The walls of our classrooms can sometimes become one of the most annoying barriers to this goal. Wouldn’t we all like to be able to transport our classes to places, times or situations that are important to understanding the concepts we are trying to teach? While, true “holodeck classrooms” are still many years (and many dollars) away for most universities, there is powerful immersive technology available to faculty at Pitt today that can help you engage students in meaningful ways. Specifically, I am speaking of 360 Video.

360 Video is an instructional technology that makes use of an active viewing experience for users that involves images recorded by cameras that see in all directions at once. In other words, the images are spherical in nature, and the viewer sees the location from a central point from which they can scan in any direction, including up and down. This immersive viewing experience can be accessed online and viewed in a web browser; an app; on a phone or tablet; or with a simple, inexpensive headset (like Google Cardboard).

Now you’re probably thinking, “Wait — this is virtual reality, right?” Well, no, not exactly. True virtual reality experiences use 360 technology, but also have 3-D capabilities and binaural (directional) sound. 360 Video is not 3-D. Instead of two slightly offset images, the viewer sees the same spherical view with both eyes. This has the decided advantage of making 360 Video less expensive, more easily accessed and simpler to create.

So, what would 360 Video allow you to do in your courses? The range of possibilities is great. They include virtual field trips, simulations, training, empathy building and documenting and/or streaming live events, just to name a few. The needs of your discipline will dictate what makes the most sense for you. But the best way to get a sense of how this works is to view it. Here are some links that will take you to 360 Video created by Pitt faculty, staff and students for use in courses, as well as some generic Pittsburgh-based 360 video. (Note that you need no special equipment to view them. Just hold your mouse down on the video and move it around.)

These 360 videos are all very different, but they have several things in common. First, they can immerse students in experiences that they may not be able to otherwise have. For example, perhaps you couldn’t take an entire astronomy class to witness the total solar eclipse. Maybe exploring ancient Roman ruins is not in your course budget. With 360 Video, those experiences can be easily and widely shared. Second, all of these clips are interactive. The viewer chooses the view. In this way, students can focus on whatever particular aspect you wish to highlight at a given time. Or, they can be allowed to explore the experience at their own pace and in their own way. Finally, as you saw by following the links, all of these clips were easily viewed on your browser — no special investment required.

All of these would be good reasons to give 360 Video a try for your particular needs. However, there is another incentive as well. 360 Video can allow students to be creators, and not just consumers. That’s right — as you saw in a couple of the examples provided, students and faculty created the 360 Video themselves. This opens up a whole range of possibilities for students to create experiences for their classmates, to share their work and experiences with a wider audience and to learn about the design and production of educational media.

All of this is possible with the help of the University Center for Teaching and Learning. The Teaching Center currently owns eight 360 Video camera kits that are available for loan to faculty, staff and students. In order to be able to use the equipment, you need only attend one of the 360 Video workshops provided by the Teaching Center staff. You’ll note that one of the video samples above was created by a classics student in Sicily. Another was recorded by me for use in our training workshops as well as astronomy courses. I can say from personal experience that using the equipment is easy and the applications are limited only by your discipline and your imagination.

If you are interested in finding out more about how 360 Video could help your classroom instruction, contact us at the Teaching Center. We will be happy to explore options with you and talk to you about how you and your students can benefit from this powerful tool that Pitt has made available to the campus community.


John G. Radzilowicz is a teaching and learning consultant for the University Center for Teaching and Learning. He can be reached by email at


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