In their personal lives, today’s students have traded in reading for watching. Whether getting a makeup tutorial on YouTube or learning ways to crack the code of their favorite video game on Twitch, they use screen time to discover new content and expand their horizons.

In the classroom, educators have the choice to fight this trend, or to embrace it. I understand the apprehension many educators have to increase screen time in the classroom, but ignoring students’ own learning preferences and inclinations is doing them a disservice. Video facilitates retention. As studies have shown, that kind of embodied learning can help students better understand the material, and immersive experiences help with retaining information.

I got a real sense for this while attending a virtual reality (VR) conference in Chicago when I put on an HTC Vive headset and was immediately transported onto a NASCAR race track. In the most complex advertisement I’ve ever seen, I was asked to change the race car’s tire and then hand the driver a Big Mac. From those couple of minutes moving around, waving my arms into the blank air, I got a vivid look at the car as I worked my way around it, and that virtual burger is emblazoned in my mind.

If video technology could have me thinking about McDonald’s this much, I knew it had potential beyond advertising.

Using 360 video to engage online students

When it comes to advanced video techniques, the potential is as wide reaching as one’s imagination: an anatomy professor could use VR to take students inside the human body—The Magic School Bus style. A history teacher could take students to Ancient Rome to sit on a throne themselves.

As an accounting professor, I am limited in my ability to create a world where I can “transport” my students; I deal with facts and figures, not great literature or historical artwork. But when it comes to the issue of engagement, accounting professors and educators that teach remote students, like I do, sure can use more of it.

How to use 360-degree video to engage students online and off

Related: 4 easy ways to take your educational videos to the next level

Inspired by the potential of VR but faced with the realities of my own editing potential and the price of VR headsets, I started with a fairly basic, but transformative, video technique: 360-degree video.

360-degree video allows the viewer to pan their view left and right, adding a peripheral vision of sorts to static video by enabling them to get a sense of the complete circumference of the room. This means remote students can listen to a lecture while simultaneously taking in the notes I’m writing on the boards to the left and right; they can see the reactions and questions raised by other students in the room, giving them the sense that they are in the class—rather than just watching it.

About the Author:

Mfon Akpan is an assistant professor of business at National Louis University in Chicago. He was originally inspired by the game Second Life, and began thinking about how VR could be applied in a game-like setting to teach auditing and accounting practices in an applied environment. Akpan is on the Education Committee of the VRAR Association, and gave a TedX presentation in 2018.