Barnidge’s Study on Virtual Reality Investigates Learning from the News

Nov 7, 2019

Dr. Matt Barnidge (left) assists a C&IS graduate student with testing the virtual reality news story.

For decades, news has been consumed by readers and viewers around the world in a variety of formats—print, video and radio, to name a few. Virtual reality (VR) technology now gives news outlets the capability of placing their viewers right in the middle of the action, where they can look around and get a 360° perspective of the story.

As a national leader in information sciences education, C&IS strives to be on the cutting-edge of technological advancements impacting the fields of communication and media. Research conducted by Dr. Matt Barnidge (Assistant Professor, Journalism and Creative Media) is studying the effects of virtual reality news stories on learning from the news.

“To the person immersed in the story, it looks like you’ve just been dropped in, like you’re hovering a couple of feet off the ground,” said Barnidge. “We want to know the effects of being in the middle of the story.”

The experiment presents the subjects with one of three different versions of the same news piece, a story on climate change produced by CNN. Subjects either experience the story in virtual reality, view the story in 360° video or read a version of the story that has been adapted by Barnidge into text format. After consuming the story, the subjects are tested on story recall, or the extent to which they remember facts from the story, and cognitive elaboration, or the extent to which they connect facts in the story to other ideas, to determine which news format best promotes learning.

“Are we in the early stages of this? Absolutely, but news follows people,” said Barnidge. ”If this platform develops to the point that everyone has VR, and their social networking, gaming and other online interactions are happening in VR, then the news will follow them there too.”

Virtual reality as a medium is already shaping the way thousands of people interact with one another. Barnidge’s research could help news networks understand how the stories they craft with this technology have an effect on informing their audiences about key issues.

The College of Communication and Information Sciences’ faculty and students at The University of Alabama conduct cutting-edge research that creates knowledge and provides solutions to global issues across the full communication and information spectrum. To learn more about the College’s research initiatives, visit