360 Videos in Museums: Shot 1 – Underwater at the Shedd Aquarium

At the November Museums and Computer Network conference, I marveled at the different ways museums around the country are using 360 videos with their visitors or in their education programs. To highlights these different applications, I started this limited series of interviews  – same questions, different institution – so we can look for patterns.

Today we turn to Miranda Kerr, the Manager of Digital Learning at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.

Miranda, What is your role where you work?

As the Manager of Digital Learning, I work with our Learning Group departments to set up digital frameworks and respond to evaluation and research trends as they relate to digital programming and audience needs. I use evidence-based decision making to pilot and integrate digital learning experiences and concepts into Shedd’s on-site, off-site and online programming channels.

When did you start exploring 360 video (and if that’s not what you call it, what’s the term round your ways)?

Part of my job is to follow what’s new in the museum technology space and any digital tools that are trending in other spheres, then consider implications for the work we do in Learning at Shedd.  I don’t remember exactly when 360 video came up on my radar, but I purchased our first equipment in the summer of 2016, a 360 camera and a set of 5 unlocked phones and VR headsets to enable us to pilot both creation and viewing of 360 video with learners.

Then in late summer and fall of 2016, along with a few other staff members, we did a 360 video pilot in one of our programs.  The Park Voyagers program brings educational programming to Chicago Park District facilities often in underserved communities. Shedd works in collaboration with 10 other Chicago museums to provide this free after-school program for children, ages 8 to10, and their families.  The 360 video and headsets were the technology we needed to answer the question, “How can we bring the experience of viewing Shedd Aquarium’s exhibits and animals to children offsite?”  We recorded 360 degree videos in three of our exhibits that would connect to the three ecosystems explored in the program.  To learn more about this pilot, check out the blog we wrote: “Virtual Reality: Bringing Shedd Aquarium to Learners in 360”.

What is the content you are working to put into 360 videos?

Our first attempts at integrating 360 video have been capturing our exhibits to share in other locations.  Because we have fishes and other animals that are swimming around, a simple photo doesn’t capture this in the same way.  We also have done some pilots to see how 360 video can capture our programs in a new way, which includes taking the camera on a snorkel during High School Marine Biology, or on a nature hike during Summer Road Trip.  The most recent 360 videos we’ve captured have actually been inside our exhibits with the animals, which provides a completely new experience.  You can view the underwater Caribbean Reef Exhibit 360 Video here:

What goes into obtaining and editing the footage?

The process for obtaining 360 video depends on where we are filming. If we are hoping to capture a 360 video of an exhibit, we aim to film before the aquarium opens so the footage is just the exhibit without guests in the shots.  In the spring of 2017, we acquired an underwater 360 camera.  To film underwater, we’ve explored a number of creative techniques including  having SCUBA divers and snorkelers hold the camera on a selfie stick, setting up a tripod inside of our exhibits and using zip ties to attach it to an underwater robot.  You can see examples of all of this footage on the Shedd Learning YouTube page.

Editing 360 video footage is a simple process with the software available, but time consuming.  The Ricoh Theta S has a user friendly cell phone app that makes for quick editing, and you can even tweet 360 photos directly from the app.  We shared a 360 photo of campers doing water quality tests at a nature center in a tweet:

The Nikon Keymisson editing works better on a desktop computer, and is a free download.  This process can take hours, even for a video that is just a few minutes long, because of how large the files are.  Although the process is not difficult, each of the steps takes time, transferring from camera to computer, then trimming or editing, and then adding meta-data to be able to upload to YouTube.

Who is the 360 video designed for, and where will they encounter it?

We have used 360 video in a handful of programs to connect with different audiences. In Park Voyagers, Learning staff brought the 360 videos on our devices to be viewed by kids using our VR headsets.  In the Teen Work Study program, teens created their own 360 video, and then shared with guests waiting in line to buy tickets using our VR headsets.  The 360 videos are also posted to our YouTube and shared on social media channels.

What are you hoping 360 video will help you or the museum to achieve?

My big question is, how can 360 video take our learners to new places and enhance experiences?  This year, Park Voyagers participants are viewing 360 videos from inside our exhibits, to have an underwater view and see fishes swimming right at them.  We captured 360 underwater video at the 2017 underwater robotics competition, so that students at the 2018 competition can view a 360 robot-eye view of the underwater course.

Do you have any initial findings?

I have comments from the Digital Learning Staff Reflections completed by Learning staff.  From the Teen Work Study project, “Teens gained skills on the applications of VR, including design goals concerns and troubleshooting of the equipment…Teens were able to bring the Wild Reef [exhibit] out to our guests!”  We also gathered reflections from the teens themselves who did that project:

“Finishing the VR project was a pretty big victory for me. I don’t finish things when I start them, and I finished a lot of things being in the teen lab.”

They were all happy with the outcome of the VR project. They were scared of not doing a good enough job on it or not finishing it. They thought it was cool when the adults they look up to got excited about their VR project. They felt special.

“I was scared of technology – terrified of technology  — until now.”

Is there anything I didn’t ask that you wish I had asked?

What’s next for 360 Video?

Although I don’t know for sure where we’ll take 360 video next, I do know the entire Learning group has this technology tool in their pocket now.  Every year for every program, we do a technology brainstorm we call a SAMR brainstorm.  We can think about how we could use 360 videos to bring Shedd Aquarium to new audiences or give learners additional experiences like 360 videos from inside other exhibits.  We can also think about how to use 360 video assets we collected last year, like from underwater robotics and snorkels in the Bahamas.

Next up: 360 VR at the Field Museum…

About Barry

The Associate Director For Digital Learning, Youth Initiatives at the American Museum of Natural History.
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