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Should virtual reality be a reality in scholastic media?



Journalism programs constantly face new technology questions. This lesson focuses students on a hot new tool for journalism—virtual reality—and helps students and advisers decide how it might fit into their journalism program. This lesson examines one new technology available to journalists (although it could be any of several other new tools). The lesson will help students discuss and establish journalistic and ethical criteria for making technological decisions before deciding whether to adopt a new journalism tool.



  • Student journalists will identify the benefits and limitations of adapting technological tools for their use.
  • Students will evaluate the pros and cons of using these tools in their program.
  • Students will develop ethical and journalistic guidelines for use of these tools.


Common Core State Standards




Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.




Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.




Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.




Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.





50 minutes



Blackboard or whiteboard

Teacher laptop and digital projector

Internet access

The Future of News: Virtual Reality

(The Virtual Reality video is suggested here, but other video or articles can replace it if the class discusses other tools)

Student computers if available

Handout: VR video note form

Handout: Quick Hits model


Lesson step-by-step

1. Warm up—5 minutes

The teacher will ask students what new social media, digital or legacy media tools have they tried or learned about lately? Do they think these tools might be usable in their program? How, and most importantly, why?


2. Whole Group—30 minutes

The teacher will ask students to discuss and list technology they use or would like to see their student media program use. Examples might include drones, Snapchat, Slack, Instagram or virtual reality (VR).

The teacher will use this question and the warm up information to lead into discussing the fledgling use of virtual reality in journalism. If no student mentions it, the teacher can begin there. If someone does, start with student reactions and what they think about VR.

After this initial discussion, the class will watch the TED Talk: The Future of News: Virtual Reality and take notes during the video for discussion to follow. The video lasts almost 10 minutes. Students can use the VR note-taking form.

Once the video is finished, ask two students to list suggestions for “Pros” and “Cons” on the board for the class to discuss. As students share what they wrote down, try to guide the conversation to some of the ethical considerations, such as the idea of adding content or visuals that didn’t necessarily exist in the original (common in VR). Can VR meet that standard or be adapted for responsible journalistic use? What might be some scenarios on their school campus that would help them brainstorm how they could use VR and the pros/cons associated?

As the students discuss, some of the potential pros and cons that should arise are:

  • VR could create journalism you might “feel” with your whole body; authentic reactions
  • Immersive storytelling; puts you on scene
  • Help audience feel how others feel
  • Can really describe what’s going on
  • Puts you there
  • Make things as accurate as we could
  • Requires someone there to accurately re-create the situation
  • What is the time factor to create a VR reconstruction?
  • No real indication of cost, equipment needed
  • How would you use it with your media?

Examples of ethical considerations might include:

  • Emotion overwhelms objectivity
  • f not there, how do we ensure what we create is emotional, yet real
  • Duality of presence; what is the purpose of VR?
  • How do these stories follow best journalistic standards?
  • How does tool’s use in journalism fit with the ethical belief or don’t anything not already there?
  • Is the sense of being on the scene valuable enough to allow re-creation?
  • Audience reactions seem to be intense; can that interfere with objectivity of reporting? How to prevent this reaction?
  • Is VR the best way to describe thoroughly situations and stories?
  • Is “with as much accuracy as possible” ethically good enough?
  • What are the ethical plusses and minuses?

 3. Small group work—15 minutes

Following the large group discussion, students will form groups of 3-4 to create Quick Hits/Ethical Guidelines for their student media. The Ethical Guideline/Quick Hits document is a way to outline acceptable use of a digital or other journalistic tool. Students can use this document as a model. Students would share their personal lists from the group discussion and, as a small group/team, develop their own, more unique model for using the tool that is relevant for their own student media program.

The ethical discussion could be expanded into formal ethical guidelines and process in a follow-up lesson or discussion. At that time, small group teams would report to the whole class and agree on a single document to be used as an ethical guideline for their staff manual.

Other tools can be substituted for Virtual Reality as they are developed or if the teacher and students simply wish to re-evaluate their journalistic and ethical use.