Newhouse students experience the future of media technologies

BY MICAH CASTELO

October 23, 2019

In the Emerging Media Platforms class, students learn about and explore new ways to create and consume media

Professor Dan Pacheco with his arms outstretched as a student maps him in a tablet app.
Professor Dan Pacheco teaches the Emerging Media Platforms class. Photo by Hieu Nguyen

Students in the Newhouse School are becoming media futurists in a class exploring the latest technologies and trends impacting the media industry.

Taught by professor Dan Pacheco, Newhouse’s Peter A. Horvitz Chair in Journalism Innovation, the Emerging Media Platforms course prepares students for the new ways news and other information will be published and consumed in the future.

The class covers six content areas: Extended Reality (which includes virtual, augmented and mixed reality), 360-degree videos, reality capture, data visualization, drones and conversational interfaces like chatbots and artificial intelligence. Students run controlled experiments or field tests with technologies like Magic Leap, an augmented reality headset that allows users to see virtual objects in the real world. Then they try to figure out new ways those technologies can be used in the communications field.

Extended Reality (XR): Immersive technologies, such as virtual, augmented and mixed reality, that merge physical and virtual worlds and lets users experience them through computer-generated scenes.

360-Degree Videos: Captured by omnidirectional cameras, these videos let viewers explore a scene from any perspective and can be experienced through headsets, holding a phone in the air or clicking around in a browser.

Reality Capture: A photogrammetry software for creating 3D models from photographs or laser scans.

Data visualization: Using open-source tools and HTML/JavaScript libraries to visualize information in an interactive way.

Drones: Unmanned aerial systems which can be used to capture images, audio or video from the sky.

Conversational interfaces: Digital interfaces, such as smart speakers, chat bots and artificial intelligence, that mimics human communication.

“You do get to play with a lot of tech, but that’s not really the purpose of [the class]. That’s the dessert part of it,” Pacheco says. “The vitamin part of the class is trying to predict the future of how all our jobs [in media] are going to be done so by the time you go into the industry, you’re not an expert in yesterday’s innovations.” 

During one session, students used 3D scanners, which they accessed through an app on their smartphones, to create 3D models that they could view on programs like Magic Leap or Helio, Magic Leap’s augmented reality web browser. They also made and animated 3D models of people by using the scanner and uploading the 3D models to Mixamo, a 3D character animation software.

After learning how to make 3D models, Pacheco and the students discussed various applications for the technologies they had experimented with—from launching a “traveling” art show that features 3D scanned artwork in an augmented reality program to using 3D character models in sports analytics. They also discussed potential dangers, such as people who have access to these technologies creating fake news videos by using animated 3D models instead of actual people and copyright and image appropriation issues when using someone else’s 3D model without their permission.

Hailey René, a senior broadcast and digital journalism major, is a student enrolled in the class. She didn’t have previous experience with any of the technologies, but was fascinated with the possibility of trying them out.

“I’m actually intimidated by new technology, but I know it’s affecting my industry,” she says. “I’m really interested in the digital and social side of broadcast, so I don’t see myself being a very traditional media person.” 

René says she loves how the class is hands-on.  For one assignment, students coded their own virtual world with moving shapes and other objects. René is already brainstorming for her field test, a controlled experiment that each student in the class must complete to test their own hypothesis on how the technologies they learn to use during the semester can be applied in a media field. As a lover of performing arts and a performer herself, she says she wants to try using virtual reality goggles to transport people into a music video, where they can learn the choreography.

Pacheco says giving students the opportunity to design and implement their own field tests on various technologies not only gives them early exposure to how to use those technologies, but also allows them to be open and honest about what works and what doesn’t, and to share that knowledge with others. 

“That kind of involvement gets the interest of tech companies who then start wanting to do [projects] with us and the students,” he says. “And then when those students graduate, they can continue that [work in] the industry.”

In the future, Pacheco hopes to publish insights from the students’ field tests so that other people and tech companies can see what they’re learning each semester as they’re experimenting with different platforms and programs.

“Ultimately, with this class, you’re also providing value back to the technology industry to help them create tools, processes and improvements to those technologies and get more media companies to use them,” Pacheco says. “Because at the end of the day, there can be a lot of wires and lights in a box, but if people don’t immediately use these technologies to tell stories in new ways and engage their audiences, then what’s the point?”

Micah Castelo is a graduate student in the magazine, newspaper and online journalism program at the Newhouse School.