Due to the rapidly evolving nature of the VR industry, this syllabus is subject to change. I will do my best to inform you of significant changes as early in the semester as possible.
Note that the contents of this site, including the syllabus and schedule, are are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. This is explained at the bottom of the syllabus.
NEW 400/600 – Virtual Reality Storytelling
- Spring 2018
- Wednesday 5:15-8 p.m.
- Newhouse 1, 206B
Professor, Office & Contact
- Dan Pacheco | Newhouse 2, room 494 | 303-465-5560 (texting fine) | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter: @pachecod | Office hours: doodle.com/danpacheco
- I can also often be found in the Innovation Lab.
Prerequisite / Co-requisite
There are no prerequisites for this course other than being in a communications-related degree program. Students from other degrees may petition to get in, provided they explain how they will use the skills they gain for the purposes of communication within their intended jobs.
Mode of Instruction
The physical presence of students is required in a physical campus location.
This course is for students in professional communications degrees such as journalism, television, film, advertising and public relations who want to learn about how to tell stories using virtual and augmented reality.
This production-oriented course teaches students in communications fields how to tell stories interactively using 360-degree video and computer-generated scenes that subjects experience through leading virtual reality headsets. The target platforms for this course are the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and Google Cardboard phone-based viewers.
The course is focused squarely on storytelling, and not other uses of virtual reality such as video games. While many of the techniques used in games can also be applied to VR story experiences, an immersive story exists primarily to convey information in a narrative way. This course focuses exclusively on experiential storytelling and ignores the pure “gaming” aspect except where such techniques enhance the story experience.
The course is also not designed to make you an expert in 3D Modeling. If you are interested in 3D modeling you are encouraged to take a separate 3D modeling course.
- Understand how modern VR headsets "trick the brain" into believing it’s somewhere else.
- Understand what makes content experienced through modern virtual reality headsets a truly new type of media distinct from all previous media forms.
- Explore, critique and deconstruct VR experiences being created by Vive and Oculus developers. Be able to explain what resources and skills are required to create a similar experience would be created.
- Identifying stories that can be “told” better through an experience, then building them.
- Get experience creating stories for various types of communications, including entertainment, journalism, advertising and public relations.
- Know the unique ethical and health considerations that must be taken into account for any virtual reality experience. Understand the legal ramifications to you as a VR producer if these are not taken into account.
This is a 3-credit course.
You will learn basic skills in the following areas:
- Using the Unity3D gaming engine.
- Conceptualizing and building your own 3D story.
- Creating interactive game elements that pull a user through a story.
- Using portable 3D scanners and photogrammetry software and incorporating the output into a story.
- Producing and editing 360 video with Adobe Premiere and Skybox VR Tools.
- Incorporating 360-degree video into a story.
- Exporting for the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Google Cardboard and WebGL.
What is this class not?
Please note that this course is NOT about making video games. While many of the techniques used in games can also be applied to VR story experiences, an immersive story exists primarily to convey information in a narrative way. Some games, for example Call of Duty or Halo, incorporate narrative storytelling techniques, but many others, such as Fruit Ninja or Candy Crush, do not. This course focuses exclusively on experiential storytelling and almost completely ignores the pure “gaming” aspect except where such techniques enhance the story experience.
This class is also not designed to make you an expert in 3D Modeling. If you are interested in 3D modeling you are encouraged to take a 3D Modeling course.
You should expect to spend at least four hours of work outside of class each week, much of it spent inside a computer lab with the Unity3D and other 3D modeling tools used in the course. For some assignments, you will also be out on location to capture video or 3D data.
- A Google account (free)
- A Twitter account (free)
- A Unity3D account (free)
- A Google Cardboard kit (approx. $20). See a list of viewers compatible with your phone here: google.com/get/cardboard/
- A portable or desktop hard drive with a minimum of 250 GB of storage and a thunderbolt or USB 3.0 cable. Recommended models that work well with the Newhouse systems can be found here: bit.ly/1sygIrA
- A USB 3.0 thumb drive (nice to have). This one is good: amzn.to/1SkTQXW
- A high-performance MicroSD card with at least 64GB storage.
- It is also helpful, but not required, to have a Mac or Windows laptop with the latest Chrome or Firefox browsers. This is to help you with testing on different platforms, as well as being able to do some types of homework outside of computer labs.
Software We’ll Be Using
This software is available on lab computers.
- AutoPano Pro and AutoPano Giga
- Photoshop and Illustrator
- Adobe Premiere Pro
- Skybox VR Tools
- Mixamo (web site)
Attendance and Attitude
This course depends heavily on class participation. For this reason, you are expected to attend every class on time. If you cannot attend, you must notify me in advance via email and provide an explanation. One absence will be granted for any reason with no explanation. Each subsequent absence with an acceptable explanation will result in a half letter-grade reduction in your final grade (for example, and A becomes an A-, and a C- becomes a D+).
Please show respect for each other as well as for the instructor. Disagreements and spirited debate about concepts are acceptable and welcome. Personal attacks of any nature are not.
University Attendance Policy
Attendance in classes is expected in all courses at Syracuse University. Students are expected to arrive on campus in time to attend the first meeting of all classes for which they are registered. Students who do not attend classes starting with the first scheduled meeting may be academically withdrawn as not making progress toward degree by failure to attend. Instructors set course-specific policies for absences from scheduled class meetings in their syllabi. It is a federal requirement that students who do not attend or cease to attend a class to be reported at the time of determination by the faculty. Faculty should use “ESPR” and “MSPR” in Orange Success to alert the Office of the Registrar and the Office of Financial Aid. Students should also review the university’s religious observance policy and make the required arrangements at the beginning of each semester.
Independent Learning Requirement
The purpose of this requirement is to encourage you to go out on your own to learn new things that help you make either and assignment, or your final project, exceptional. Here are a couple options, but feel free to find something else such as another book, a tutorial or interviewing an expert.
Option 1, Book: First, you can read a book by Newhouse's own Professor Keith Giglio, Slay the Dragon: Writing Great Stories for Video Games. It comes out September 1, 2015 and is available for preorder from Barnes and Noble as an eBook for $13.99 or paperback is $18.83. Giglio will be speaking to our class and will sign printed books afterwards. To satisfy this requirement, you must write a blog post about what you learned about interactive storytelling and how you applied it to an assignment, or if you choose, to an entirely new project.
Option 2, Lynda.com course: Option two is to take one relevant Lynda.com course on your own time and apply what you learned to an assignment to make it better. Syracuse University students now have free access to online classes and tutorials from Lynda.com. Many of these courses are about technical skills that can be directly applied to your work in this course. To satisfy this requirement, you must write a blog post about what you learned and how you applied it to an assignment.
We will also discuss short articles or essays, or watch videos, that are assigned before the class in which they will be discussed. You can find additional readings in the Experiential Media Diigo list I maintain here: bit.ly/vr-360-master-list I also expect you to be on the lookout for additional readings, videos or developments in the ever-changing VR field. At minimum please regularly peruse the following sites:
- Road to VR: http://www.roadtovr.com/
- VR Focus: http://vrfocus.com/
- Articles by Re/code's Eric Johnson: http://recode.net/author/eric-johnson/
- The New York Times Business and Technology sections, and Bits blog: http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/ (Note: you can register for a complimentary New York Times subscription by logging on to http://nytimes.com/passes, and using your school email address to set up a user name and password. See this tutorial for help.)
- The VR Geeks list: http://www.vrgeeks.org/vr-geeks/global
- Engadget: http://engadget.com
- Twitter hashtags #vr, #oculusrift, #htcvive. People constantly share cool stuff there and via other hashtags.
Share your own finds
When you find something interesting that will make for a good class discussion or exploration, post a link to it in Twitter using the hashtag #vrstorytelling. This will cause them to automatically show up on the Class Finds page. You are required to share at least 5 finds (an average of one every three weeks) throughout the semester as part of your grade. I will tally these up throughout the semester and incorporate them into your final grade. Note that if you post all 5 during the last 3 weeks of class -- meaning that you procrastinated -- you will receive credit for only one during that period.
While we also have a class Facebook group that is useful for us sharing finds with each other, I would request that you also still post your finds to the #VRStorytelling hashtag on Twitter. When I calculcate your participation grade I will be looking through the class hashtag first, and Facebook second.
Remember that anything you share socially is public to the world, and will be out there forever. I also reserve the right to include your finds in a list of resources for future class participants.
Share your tips for possible extra credit
When you do something that nobody else in class has done before, I may ask you to do a How-To writeup on the class site for current and future students. I'll also ask you to show everyone in class what you did, and walk through the basics of how to do it. You'll get 1-5 points extra credit depending on what you did and the quality of the writeup.
The assignments for this class will all be done using software in the lab where the class meets. There are many components to each assignment, so be sure to read the instructions with each assignment about what you need to do.
Please remember that anything posted on vrstorytelling.org is intentionally public to the world. The purpose of this is to help you begin to engage with the global community of VR developers and enthusiasts and help you begin to create a brand for yourself as a media professional who has a deeper than average understanding of VR.
How to Turn in Assignments
Assignments are to be posted using this blog. Be prepared to share all your source files that make your assignments and final project work. Also, do all of the following:
- Enter the assignment number and title in the title field. For example: Assignment 1 - Dan Pacheco
- Check the "Student Work" category before publishing.
- Type your name at the top of the post. While your user name will appear, sometimes it’s necessary for me to edit your post, which changes the user name. I want to make sure it’s clear who the author is, and that you get proper credit for your work.
- Put your name in as a tag. This makes it easier to search for your assignment, again to make sure you get credit.
- Follow individual assignment requirements.
- Many assignments require a screencast that is uploaded to YouTube. I recommend that you record your screen with QuickTime.
- Embed other media such as videos, upload files and screenshots, and whatever else into that blog post in order to show your work.
- Be descriptive in the blog post about not just what you did, but what you tried that didn't work and the process you went through in order to complete it. This is important because if you weren't able to finish, you will still get points for talking about how you tried to get unstuck (for example, reading through an online forum, watching a video tutorial, etc.) If it's a group assignment, be clear about what YOU did to make the project a success.
- IMPORTANT! Go to the class Blackboard site, find the assignment number and post a link to your blog entry in that assignment. I will not be e-mailing feedback about the assignments but instead will be submitting that through Blackboard. Blackboard is also how grades will be assigned for each assignment.
You will have two options for your final project.
The first option, which is the default for every student, will be to create a virtual reality experience for the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift or Google Cardboard that tells a story or conveys information that is relevant to your field of study (for example: film, advertising, journalism, engineering). In some cases I will allow you to choose a different field, but you must make a compelling case for why you want to do that. Test the experience in the Vive or Oculus and, when you know it works and doesn’t crash, post the files in the class network drive. You will need to create a preview / trailer in YouTube that illustrates and explains the experience in a way that could potentially be used should you wish to distribute the experience to the public for testing and feedback.
The second option, which requires advance approval from me, is to work as an apprentice with a professional content creator at a media company on a story that is intended to for public consumption. The story does not necessarily need to be published by the time the final project is due, but I will need to be able to access all materials in advance of publication in order to review it and assign a grade. The responsibility rests on you to make sure the professional and/or organization is OK with this. If for some reason you aren't allowed to give me full access, or I'm required to sign an NDA (which in most cases I won't do), you will not receive credit for the final project -- so be sure you get clearance to share all materials with me beforehand! Because this is not an internship, it will not count as an internship required by your degree program. However I am not opposed to you working with a professional as part of an internship in which you are already engaged independent of this class.
As part of additional class work requirements, you will be required to work on a separate project intended for publication with a group of other graduate students. Details on possible projects will be addressed in class.
The grading scale for assignments and final grade is as follows:
Assignments that require testing in a VR headset may take longer for obvious reasons. I require a 24-hour waiting period before discussing any posted grade. This is to give us both a chance to think rationally about the assignment and grade so that we can have a meaningful discussion.
Your overall class grade will be calculated based on a point system, with 200 total points possible in the class. The breakdown is as follows:
- 40% – Assignments – 80 points possible from 8 assignments, worth 10 points each.
- 40% – Final Project – 80 points possible.
- 10% – Independent learning requirement – 20 points possible.
- 5% – VR Experience Research & Presentation – 10 points possible.
- 5% – Professionalism and classwork – 10 points possible. Includes attendance, sharing finds, class participation, quizzes.
Don't Be Late!
In the professional world, you never get credit for something that is submitted late without a prior discussion and agreement on a different deadline. This means anything you submit late without a discussion with me in advance will get an F grade.
In what circumstances would I accept late work? Only for those that would fly in the business world, and for which you can provide evidence. These are usually "Act of God" types of issues. For example, if you get hit by a car and are in the hospital, I will understand and we can work something out, but I may ask to see something from the hospital. I reserve the right to reduce the score for an assignment by a half-letter grade for each day it is submitted late, even if you have an excuse.
Academic Integrity Policy
Syracuse University’s academic integrity policy reflects the high value that we, as a university community, place on honesty in academic work. The policy defines our expectations for academic honesty and holds students accountable for the integrity of all work they submit. Students should understand that it is their responsibility to learn about course-specific expectations, as well as about university-wide academic integrity expectations. The university policy governs appropriate citation and use of sources, the integrity of work submitted in exams and assignments, and the veracity of signatures on attendance sheets and other verification of participation in class activities. The policy also prohibits students from submitting the same written work in more than one class without receiving written authorization in advance from both instructors. The presumptive penalty for a first instance of academic dishonesty by an undergraduate student is course failure, accompanied by a transcript notation indicating that the failure resulted from a violation of academic integrity policy. The presumptive penalty for a first instance of academic dishonesty by a graduate student is suspension or expulsion. SU students are required to read an online summary of the university’s academic integrity expectations and provide an electronic signature agreeing to abide by them twice a year during pre-term check-in on MySlice. For more information and the complete policy, see http://academicintegrity.syr.edu/.
All students enrolled in Newhouse classes are expected to complete a course evaluation in the last two weeks of a class. These online evaluations take about 10 minutes to complete. Professors may designate time within the last class sessions for you to complete this requirement. In order to protect the integrity of this evaluation process, the Newhouse School does not release the evaluation results to professors until after grades are filed. Student identification is removed from data sent to professors, and therefore your response is anonymous. Your feedback will assist the professor and the administration in continuing to maintain the teaching standard expected of the Newhouse School.
If you believe that you need accommodations for a disability, please contact the Office of Disability Services (ODS), http://disabilityservices.syr.edu, located in Room 309 of 804 University Avenue, or call (315) 443-4498, TDD: (315) 443-1371 for an appointment to discuss your needs and the process for requesting accommodations. ODS is responsible for coordinating disability-related accommodations and will issue students with documented Disabilities Accommodation Authorization Letters, as appropriate. Since accommodations may require early planning and generally are not provided retroactively, please contact ODS as soon as possible.
Syracuse University values diversity and inclusion; we are committed to a climate of mutual respect and full participation. My goal is to create learning environments that are useable, equitable, inclusive and welcoming. If there are aspects of the instruction or design of this course that result in barriers to your inclusion or accurate assessment or achievement, I invite any student to meet with me to discuss additional strategies beyond accommodations that may be helpful to your success.
SU religious observances notification and policy, found at http://hendricks.syr.edu/spiritual-life/index.html, recognizes the diversity of faiths represented among the campus community and protects the rights of students, faculty, and staff to observe religious holidays according to their tradition. Under the policy, students are provided an opportunity to make up any examination, study, or work requirements that may be missed due to a religious observance provided they notify their instructors before the end of the second week of classes for regular session classes and by the submission deadline for flexibly formatted classes.
For fall and spring semesters, an online notification process is available for students in My Slice / StudentServices / Enrollment / MyReligiousObservances / Add a Notification. Instructors may access a list of their students who have submitted a notification in My Slice Faculty Center.
Student Academic Work Policy
Educational use of student work: I intend to use academic work that you complete this semester for educational purposes in this course during this semester. Your registration and continued enrollment constitute your permission.
In addition, I intend to use academic work that you complete this semester in subsequent semesters for educational purposes. Before using your work for that purpose, I will either get your written permission or render the work anonymous by removing all your personal identification.
University policy is that all university communications should be sent to students’ SU account, i.e. @syr.edu. If you’d like that email forwarded to another account, see https://selfserv.syr.edu/accounts/
- The class schedule is available on the schedule page.
The entire contents of this site, including the syllabus and schedule, are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. That means you are free to use what you find here elsewhere for non-commercial uses as long as you provide attribution, and others who use the content do the same and also share their modifications under this same license.