What are the best solutions to engaging audiences in user-generated campaigns? This was the challenge that lay before Transmedia Zone Director Ramona Pringle and the Interactive Storytelling class this past winter semester, when CBC and White Pine Pictures approached Ryerson University for help creating a digital strategy for their TV show ‘We Are Canada’ executive produced by Ken Dryden.
With 90 undergraduate and graduate students and only one semester to meet the challenge, they set out to create a Virtual Studio. The goals were: to create broad engagement, feature diverse voices and appeal to individuals from all across the country. The innovative Virtual Studio approach meant that at least one challenge, geographic location, would no longer be a liability; working remotely, students could collaborate with change-makers across the country using digital tools for communication.
Over the course of the semester, the Virtual Studio staff and students launched a nationwide contest which received nominations from every province and territory. They selected the top 30 change-makers from across the country to be paired up with teams of students who would help them to co-create a video to showcase the work they are doing to make their community better.
By bringing professional production into the classroom and tackling real-world problems, Ryerson students were able to gain hands-on skills they can take into their future careers. The result? During the 30-day campaign the student’s videos were viewed 44, 788 times and were able to actively engage Canadians from coast to coast in voting for their favourite change-makers.
Click through the interactive map to see all 30 change-makers, read their profiles and watch their videos!
How do you prepare 90 students to tackle a new and innovative approach to media-making?
First, students needed to learn how to tell a good story. They were pushed to identify what changes they hope to see in their own communities, and think about what it meant to them to be a change-maker. They defined it for themselves and then set out to find change-makers in their local community such as Ashley Lewis and Michal Prywata, so they could learn the ropes of media production. “For this project to be truly cross-Canadian, we needed to take a Virtual Studio approach,” says professor Ramona Pringle. “It was really important to feature change-makers from across the country, and so once students had learned the basics of producing a video locally, then the next challenge was to figure out how to tell an equally compelling story when you’re collaborating long distance.”
This meant that in addition to learning the skills of traditional video-production, students would need to learn how to engage in remote-production so they could share stories from rural Canada and from all 13 provinces and territories. In the process, they would be creating a case-study in how to run a Virtual Studio.
Students brought their knowledge in media-making while their subjects would co-create by bringing their ideas and helping to provide assets including videos, pictures and other visual artifacts. Even though they would never meet in person and interviews would be conducted through video conferencing, they would be able to work together to combine the story and the visuals that could share these change-maker’s ideas with the world.
To view some of the student’s local change-maker videos, visit:
Shajiraj Nadarajalingam, created by Luke Peters, Vib Soundrarajah and Yujia Guo
Jega Delisca, created by Jacqueline Vo, Evelyn Thompson and Janae Roomes
Tracy Nguyen, created by Dylan Pereira, Christian Ano and Jordan Weinfeld
Once our students were ready, the question remained, how do we reach people all across Canada? How do we best represent our vast nation and tell stories that showcase diversity both culturally and geographically? How could we connect our Virtual Studio with the nation?
The answer lay in creating partnerships with industry. Building on the partnerships with CBC and White Pine Pictures, who had originally sought out Ryerson’s involvement in creating a digital component for We Are Canada, the project was further assisted by a Virtual Studio Staff. These up and coming media-professionals were brought into the classroom to provide guidance and assistance throughout the semester.
Kate McKenzie of Worldviews Productions, Lauren Evans & Wil Noack of Cherrydale Productions, Laura Heidenheim producer of Shades of Our Sisters and Aaron Labbe brought their knowledge of producing, interviewing, editing, audio and overall production to share with Ryerson students to help them produce the best possible pieces.
Written by: Laura Heidenheim/ May 20th 2017
My name is Laura Heidenheim, I am a recent graduate of the Ryerson School of Media and had the opportunity to intern with the Virtual Studio and work closely with the Virtual Studio class. As the project began, it became apparent that my fellow students were being exposed to something that I truly wish I could have taken part in within my undergrad. One of my first moments of awe came as I set up within a small audio booth and took my place in the corner to begin filming and capturing two students completing their first interview. The students were working with Tareq Hadhad, the owner of a company in PEI called
“Peace by Chocolate”. I watched as two young university students from Toronto began to connect with Tareq, a Syrian refugee who came to Canada to start a new life with his family and who was committed to spreading his message of peace. The virtual relationship which I saw before me was warm and collaborative. These people who had never met, from two different worlds were building a connection before my eyes in the common interest of telling Canadian stories of positive change.
This unique experience was echoed in every interview I sat in on and I began to see that for the students of the Virtual Studio, this was more than just a university credit. Aside from having the incredible
opportunity to work with real subjects on a cross-country scale, the Virtual Studio class has also been able to work at professional standards. In preparation they had Ken Dryden, Ramona Pringle and an entire team of professional producers at their aid to give tailored advice and guidelines. Along the way this support only intensified as students received one on one feedback, story advice and editing support. With professional support and mentorship, the Virtual Studio class was not only working with real subjects but was producing content for a real broadcaster, the CBC.
This balance of professional mentorship and guidance with real-world expectations and partners has made for an educational experience which is second to none. Rarely do students get this middle-ground experience where there is a real client involved yet they still have the support of teachers and mentors. As I myself enter the “real-world” I can appreciate how precious this experience is and I have seen the incredible effect it has had on the students within the Virtual Studio.
We were thrilled when we received nominations from every province and territory across Canada and were able to select 30 change-makers who were diverse in backgrounds, gender, age and sectors that they represented. one of the challenges of co-creating through a Virtual Studio was that students were connecting with people they had never met before. What cross-cultural issues needed to be taken into account? How could we prepare them to collaborate with change-makers with a wide range of professional backgrounds? How would we face the technical hurdles that we knew we would with our dependency on internet connectivity?
Pringle and the Virtual Studio team helped prepare students for their interviews and reminded them that one of the best parts of co-creation is involving your subject in the story creation process and learning from them and with them as you go.
As we began production, one unexpected challenge was the realization that internet access is not equal across Canada. Many of the change-makers we interviewed in rural or Northern communities struggled to get a consistent internet connection which would result in choppy video feeds and required patience for everyone involved.
The students who created the profile video for the winning change-maker were awarded the opportunity to be a part of creating of her mini documentary with the White Pine Pictures crew. After finishing the semester, they got jobs on the production and traveled to Sudbury to work with the team of professionals and had a hand at the first cut of the video.
Winning Change-maker:Amanda Kingsley Malo
The winning change-maker, Amanda Kingsley Malo, is fighting to get more women involved in politics within rural and northern communities.
To promote the final roster of profile videos and reach new audiences, we built out a social media strategy that would require public engagement all the way through the campaign as the public nominated candidates, received updates, and eventually were able to vote for their favorite videos.
In order to reach as many different types of audiences as possible, we reached out through social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as well as through the CBC Website. Our most successful engagement tool was Facebook where we were able to generate 44,788 views of our videos during the campaign.
Our highest engagement and number of views on Facebook came from videos which featured social initiatives that were in themselves encouraging participation from the public. Whereas, our highest engagement on Twitter came from a post that announced and featured the Top 10 change-makers. The secret to high engagement we believe was creating posts that encouraged participation and allowed people to celebrate and champion local unsung heroes.
Northern Stars: http://www.northernstars.ca/white-pine-declares-canada/
YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCAmZAxEelGZJizI1xr10rHg