A Virtual Reality Field Trip Through South Florida's Everglades

A Virtual Reality Field Trip Through South Florida's Everglades Betty Osceola, a Miccosukee educator and water activist who runs her own airboat business, is one narrative guide into the Everglades in SwampScapes. (Grant Bemis), Author provided

Before cities there were swamps. Wetlands and swamps globally have been sacrificed to pave the way for housing, agriculture and industry. Urban developers and dwellers have largely overlooked the vital role that swamps play in buffering storms, capturing carbon, fostering life and filtering water.

One of the biggest threats to swamps today is a lack of understanding of swamps’ role in human survival. This is especially true in South Florida, home to the Everglades, one of the largest swamps in North America, and the site of a huge and expensive wetland restoration project.

In a time of climate emergency, it is especially important to listen and learn from the swamps around us. But what if you don’t live near a swamp?

A Virtual Reality Field Trip Through South Florida's Everglades The Florida butterfly orchid found in the Everglades. (Rita Bauer), Author provided

I spent a semester as the visiting Knight Chair at the Center for Communication, Culture and Change at the University of Miami, teaching a production course in interactive documentary and the Everglades. As a filmmaker and teacher who is invested in participatory processes, my goal was to explore media methods to promote what I’ve come to think of as swamp literacy.

Over several months, I worked in collaboration with university students, community organizations, biologists and co-directors Kim Grinfeder and Juan Carlos Zaldivar. We developed SwampScapes, a multi-platform documentary that involved a 13-minute Virtual Reality (VR) film, a Swamp Symphony, and a study guide. For those who could not access the VR film, we shot video portraits that can be viewed online.

We were curious to explore how we could use VR to cultivate care about a site that is inaccessible to most people. Our idea was to create a virtual field trip for youth with no means or interest in wading through a swamp.

SwampScapes VR film trailer. The 13-minute VR film can be experienced with an Oculus Go headset.

Part of the appeal of the virtual field trip was to mitigate the impact of visitors on the ecosystems we were trying to protect. We wanted to democratize VR by creating stories informed by environmental justice and participatory methods.

Shared input

A central challenge guiding the project was how we might make the process as meaningful as the final product.

We were inspired by activist David Bollier’s articulation of “commoning” as a method where people foster social connections with each other and with nature to challenge the competitive logic of the market economy and its focus on resource extraction. His analysis draws on ideas about protecting and interacting with resources that people depend on and share in common.

A Virtual Reality Field Trip Through South Florida's Everglades Liz Miller and graduate student Evan Karge in Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park. (Grant Bemis), Author provided

Media scholars Patricia Zimmerman and Helen De Michiel describe participatory documentaries as an open space where diverse forms of engagement can emerge to expand the public commons.

To start our own process of media commoning, I asked students to identify a personal goal, skills they might contribute and their hopes for impact.

This simple exercise helped to establish that the project would be shaped by our shared input, the people we met in the field and the research we developed as a group.

Kyle Powys Whyte and Matt Ferkany, professors of philosophy and education at Michigan State University, advocate for the need to integrate participatory virtues such as fairness, empathy, humility or compromise into environmental education. I wanted my students to gain experience in collaborative problem solving and negotiating differences.

A Virtual Reality Field Trip Through South Florida's Everglades Our team filming biologist and guide Mike Owen in Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park. (Rita Bauer)

‘Shimmering waters’

Environmental justice speaks to the power imbalances in environmental struggles. It’s a framework that encourages people to think through critical questions like: “Whose perspectives are included in a media project?”

Anishinaabe scholar Deborah McGregor suggests that in addition to considering power imbalances between people, we must also rethink our relationships to other beings. In a VR film, place itself becomes a lead protagonist, so our challenge was to limit human narration and to let users experience the place’s presence.

A Virtual Reality Field Trip Through South Florida's Everglades In SwampScapes, local fisherman Larry Pace describes how he respectfully shares his fishing hole with a resident alligator, explaining, ‘this is his territory.’ (Rita Bauer), Author provided

We wanted to ensure that if we were hosting a virtual field trip or teleporting visitors to a fragile, sacred or faraway place, that we were careful about how a user entered the space.

We relied on the concept of guides, people with deep relationships to the place, to situate the user in a respectful way. Seven guides worked with us including algae specialist Larry Brand, raptor biologist Donna Molfetto, and Miccosukee educator and water activist Betty Osceola.

Betty explained:

“It’s important to me to help people who visit the Everglades to understand and connect with the Everglades, but also to understand my culture.”

A Virtual Reality Field Trip Through South Florida's Everglades Betty Osceola shared that the Miccosukee people call the Everglades Kahayatle, meaning shimmering waters. (Grant Bemis), Author provided

From audience to community

Throughout the process, we tried to be self-reflexive about the intended and unintended impacts our project might have. By developing a virtual field trip to cultivate swamp awareness were we inadvertently encouraging students to be more interested in screens rather than getting outside to explore local landscapes?

Virtual field trips aren’t a replacement for outdoor education and technology alone does not help to cultivate care. While VR documentary projects have potential for education they can also be associated with new forms of consumerism, spectacle or electronic waste. Acknowledging entanglements is a necessary part of critical media literacy.

Our SwampScapes project is taking a new direction as we begin outreach.

We have shared our project with 85 Grade 8 students in Miami as part of their biology curriculum and we hope to reach more students.

A Virtual Reality Field Trip Through South Florida's Everglades Students at Carver Middle School in Miami watch SwampScapes VR film on Oculus Go headsets. (Konstantia Kontaxis), Author provided

This summer we attended the Climate Story Lab, a workshop where producers of environmental media and climate change experts explored how to transform audiences into communities to foster climate awareness.

We not only want to cultivate care about swamps — we also want to build our capacity for collaborative education.

About The Author

Elizabeth (Liz) Miller, Professor in Communication Studies, Concordia University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Related Books

Life After Carbon: The Next Global Transformation of Cities

by Peter Plastrik , John Cleveland
1610918495The future of our cities is not what it used to be. The modern-city model that took hold globally in the twentieth century has outlived its usefulness. It cannot solve the problems it helped to create—especially global warming. Fortunately, a new model for urban development is emerging in cities to aggressively tackle the realities of climate change. It transforms the way cities design and use physical space, generate economic wealth, consume and dispose of resources, exploit and sustain the natural ecosystems, and prepare for the future. Available On Amazon

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

by Elizabeth Kolbert
1250062187Over the last half-billion years, there have been Five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. This time around, the cataclysm is us. In prose that is at once frank, entertaining, and deeply informed, New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert tells us why and how human beings have altered life on the planet in a way no species has before. Interweaving research in half a dozen disciplines, descriptions of the fascinating species that have already been lost, and the history of extinction as a concept, Kolbert provides a moving and comprehensive account of the disappearances occurring before our very eyes. She shows that the sixth extinction is likely to be mankind's most lasting legacy, compelling us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human. Available On Amazon

Climate Wars: The Fight for Survival as the World Overheats

by Gwynne Dyer
1851687181Waves of climate refugees. Dozens of failed states. All-out war. From one of the world’s great geopolitical analysts comes a terrifying glimpse of the strategic realities of the near future, when climate change drives the world’s powers towards the cut-throat politics of survival. Prescient and unflinching, Climate Wars will be one of the most important books of the coming years. Read it and find out what we’re heading for. Available On Amazon

From The Publisher:
Purchases on Amazon go to defray the cost of bringing you InnerSelf.comelf.com, MightyNatural.com, and ClimateImpactNews.com at no cost and without advertisers that track your browsing habits. Even if you click on a link but don't buy these selected products, anything else you buy in that same visit on Amazon pays us a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, so please contribute to the effort. You can also use this link to use to Amazon at any time so you can help support our efforts.

 

enafarzh-CNzh-TWnltlfrdehiiditjakomsfaptruesswsvthtrurvi

LATEST VIDEOS

Bill Nye And The Climate Crisis
by MSNBC
On a special show before a live studio audience, Bill Nye the science guy discusses the climate crisis with Chris Hayes.
How Greenland's Massive Ice Melt Will Totally Transform The World
by Channel 4 News
Remember that heatwave back in August? Well, the Arctic remembers it too. Record rates of ice melt have been recorded…
China Is Positioned To Lead On Climate Change As The US Rolls Back Its Policies
China Is Positioned To Lead On Climate Change As The US Rolls Back Its Policies
by Kelly Sims Gallagher and Fang Zhang
As the effects of climate change become more widespread and alarming, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has…
What Happens When The Permafrost Thaws?
by Official W5
Almost half of Canada sits on permanently frozen land called permafrost, but climate change is causing it to thaw and…
We Are Striking to Disrupt the System: An Hour with 16-Year-Old Climate Activist Greta Thunberg
by Democracy Now!
In her first extended broadcast interview in the United States, we spend the hour with Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old…
Annual Assessment of North Cascades Glaciers Finds Shocking Loss of Volume
Annual Assessment of North Cascades Glaciers Finds Shocking Loss of Volume
by Mauri Pelto
The summer of 2019 found the North Cascade Glacier Climate Project in the field for the 36th consecutive summer…
Breakdown In Coral Reef Iconic Spawning Puts Species At Risk Of Extinction
Breakdown In Coral Reef Iconic Spawning Puts Species At Risk Of Extinction
by Heidi Burdett
Breakdown In Coral Reef Iconic Spawning Puts Species At Risk Of Extinction
How Climate Change Is Driving Emigration From Central America
How Climate Change Is Driving Emigration From Central America
by Miranda Cady Hallett
Clouds of dust rose behind the wheels of the pickup truck as we hurtled over the back road in Palo Verde, El Salvador.

LATEST ARTICLES

How Climate Change Could Threaten The World’s Traditional Food Dishes
How Climate Change Could Threaten The World’s Traditional Food Dishes
by Daisy Dunne
Climate change is likely to alter the way that the world grows, trades and enjoys food.
Bill Nye And The Climate Crisis
by MSNBC
On a special show before a live studio audience, Bill Nye the science guy discusses the climate crisis with Chris Hayes.
How Greenland's Massive Ice Melt Will Totally Transform The World
by Channel 4 News
Remember that heatwave back in August? Well, the Arctic remembers it too. Record rates of ice melt have been recorded…
China Is Positioned To Lead On Climate Change As The US Rolls Back Its Policies
China Is Positioned To Lead On Climate Change As The US Rolls Back Its Policies
by Kelly Sims Gallagher and Fang Zhang
As the effects of climate change become more widespread and alarming, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has…
We Need More Carbon In Our Soil To Help Australian Farmers Through The Drought
We Need More Carbon In Our Soil To Help Australian Farmers Through The Drought
by Nanthi Bolan
Australia has never been a stranger to droughts, but climate change is now super-charging them.
Climate Breakdown Is Pushing Brazil's Iconic Araucaria Tree To Extinction
Climate Breakdown Is Pushing Brazil's Iconic Araucaria Tree To Extinction
by Oliver Wilson
For hundreds of thousands of years, the distinctive candelabra shapes of Araucaria trees (Araucaria angustifolia) have…
Roiled By Trump Politics, NOAA Seeks Accountability, Atonement
by MSNBC
Rachel Maddow reports on the backlash within the weather science community over an unsigned statement from NOAA…
Extreme Cities: Ground Zero for Climate Change
by The Laura Flanders Show
No matter how we tackle climate change, cities are key.