COLLEGE PARK, Md. (Dec. 12) – Merrill College students are members of two teams that won Future of Information (FIA) Innovation Spark Grants. Four finalists were chosen from eight teams during Friday’s competition held in Knight Hall. This year’s competition focused on virtual reality, augmented reality and immersive storytelling.

Each interdisciplinary team will receive up to $10,000 in stipends and expenses to carry out their projects next spring.

The journalism students on these teams are Jennie Aguilar, Camille Chrysostom, Naema Ahmed, Tom Hausman, Hannah Klarner, and Matthew Regan.  From the College of Journalism faculty, Josh Davidsburg and Sean Mussenden are jointly mentoring one of the teams (Food Desert).

The winning projects with Merrill students include:

Inside a Washington, D.C. Food Desert: Developing a Method for Combining Virtual Reality Video with Motion Graphic Data Visualization

ABSTRACT: We propose the development of an innovative storytelling method combining Virtual Reality video and motion-graphic data visualizations, allowing those who experience it to develop a deeper understanding of the challenge that poorer, African-American families in some Southeast Washington, D.C. neighborhoods face in easily obtaining nutritious food. To develop the project, we plan to work with WAMU, a media organization with a deep commitment to covering diverse communities in the Washington area, to produce an innovative, effective marriage of data visualization and VR video. In addition to releasing a proof-of-concept story on “food deserts” in Southeast Washington, we will produce an open-source package of data visualization templates specifically tailored for VR video environments, for use by other storytellers. We will also produce a digital “how-to” guide to help others build on our storytelling method and tutorials on the use of our template package.

The Rest of the Story: Credibility and the Three60 Reporter

ABSTRACT:  By exploring how 360 ­degree photos and videos can be used to create augmented news articles that allow the reader to see “The Rest of the Story” we seek to support improved trust in the credibility of photojournalists. The technology to capture 360 ­degree content and the ability to view has left its nascent state. Now is the time to look beyond just entertainment and to develop techniques and additional technologies to capitalize on these advances to serve the public good. In terms of FIA priorities, Credibility is the one most served by allowing the reader to view the context in which photos are taken and stories took place. The priorities of InfoLiteracy and Culture are also served; by helping readers become more media literate (increasing the awareness of how an article might not provide a full context) and through the types of news stories used to demonstrate our ideas.

The winning teams included 21 students and faculty mentors from eight UMD colleges and schools.  These were among eight semifinalist teams who pitched their projects on Friday. Those eight participating teams included 40 students and faculty from 10 UMD colleges and schools.

Read about all the winners and the FIA Spark Grant Competition.