New class teaches students how to design for emerging technologies

Students in JOUR 460

In JOUR 460: Extended Realities and Immersive Technologies, a new journalism course that launched last fall, students learned how new technologies can help solve real-world problems, as well as entertain others.

Besides gaining an understanding of the history and application of virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality, students also designed their own immersive experiences (see links below). For example, students created virtual campus tours, games, and news stories. 

“I haven’t been around campus that much,” said Assistant Professor Christopher Ball, who joined the College of Media Department of Journalism in the fall. “But I see all these cool buildings every time I walk [to Gregory Hall] in the mornings. Now that some of the students are doing their virtual tour of campus, I am getting to see what the [McFarland Carillon] Bell Tower looks like from underneath and I can hear the bells.”

Assistant Professor Christopher Ball's JOUR 460 classDuring class, Ball approached the VR projects by suggesting broad topics so students could discover their own ways to develop the technology. Since the platforms are so new, theorizing the potential applications in various fields is part of the classroom learning.

“I believe that education is most effective when the focus shifts to immediately applying abstract ideas to real-world situations,” said Ball, pictured at right. “My goal as an instructor is to facilitate such insights, to encourage not just the retention of information but the application of ideas.”

Tim Gilmore, a senior in journalism, created a virtual Where’s Waldo game where the user is transported into the game and must find Waldo. This takes place on a phone app, where the user sees a blown-up 360-degree image and seeks out Waldo while moving the phone around the room to search for him.

But students don’t need to have a design background to participate in the class. “You just need a smart phone,” Gilmore said. “It’s a lot of discussion and thinking.” 

Each group produced a website and an accompanying 360-video experience. Watch more immersive projects:




Prior to his position at Illinois, Ball was a research assistant and instructor while working on his PhD at Michigan State University. He worked on a multitude of grant-funded research projects and taught quite a few cutting-edge courses, such as Avatar Use, Psychology, and Significance.

Ball has also obtained graduate certifications in educational technology as well as serious game design and research. Before beginning his doctoral studies, he was employed as a research associate at Clemson University, where he designed and tested educational virtual world programs.

But that’s not how he got his start. A simple Mario game in which he found more joy in making shapes with the blocks than the story line led him to study sociology and interactive technologies. 

“If you want to trace it all the way back, it’s when I got my first Nintendo and, for the first time, I could control something that, before that point, I had no control over,” Ball said. “In game scholarship we call that agency, where something becomes interactive and changes the experience.”

Ball’s current research involves the influence of new technologies on society. He’s also interested in how interactive media and technologies—such as video games and virtual reality—can be adapted for experiential learning.

—Story by Tatiania Perry, Communications and Marketing Intern. Classroom photos by Pramod Acharya (MS '19, journalism).