National technology leaders honor UCS innovation through virtual reality film making awards
National technology leaders honor UCS innovation through virtual reality film making awards
Posted on 02/16/2018
Title "The Tour" over picture of students in the classroom

A national organization promoting innovation in technology has awarded three top awards to Utica Community Schools 3D virtual reality films that were created to address an important issue.

The Tour, a Utica Center for Science of Industry (UCSI) film about the importance of creativity, was named the overall winner of the “Make Waves” Award for inspiring action for positive change in the 360 Filmmakers Challenge. 

The film also earned “Hack 360 Honorable Mention” as an ingenious solution to achieve a special effect in the competition sponsored by Digital Promise, a nonprofit organization working to spur innovation in education.

In addition to the UCSI awards, Drinking and Driving Affects EVERYONE, from Henry Ford II High School, earned “One Moment 360 Honorable Mention” to recognize a moment that sticks with the viewer long after the virtual reality headset comes off.

Out of the six total awards in the program, three were earned by UCS students.

“The 360 Filmmakers Challenge reflects the high level of student skills for innovation, problem solving and communication in Utica Community Schools,” superintendent Dr. Christine Johns said. “Our students care deeply about issues that impact their world and are effectively using technology to encourage change.”

The 360 Filmmakers Challenge is a first-year program that engages young people to produce 360° films that make an impact.

The program is part of VR for Good, an initiative of the virtual reality (VR) company Oculus, and is directed by Digital Promise Global.

The purpose of the program is to inspire the next generation of virtual reality creators and build student skills and confidence as producers with emerging technology.

The Tour was honored for providing a perspective on the importance of creativity in educational development. It earned a top rating – Amazing – in all 22 categories of the competition. 

“Wow! This is a gem of a film. A clever and creative concept executed almost flawlessly,” wrote one judge.

Another wrote: “The vision was clear, the message was cleverly approached and eloquently written, the story was delightful, the tone and style were consistent and elegant, the performances excellent, and the technical elements were clean. This was an absolutely fantastic piece and everyone involved deserves the highest accolades.”

Students worked under the direction of UCSI teacher Michael Allore.

Drinking and Driving Affects EVERYONE shares the impact of four student deaths on a school community.

According to judges, the film is “a wonderful effort that definitely inspired action for positive change.”


Students worked under the direction of Henry Ford II High School teacher Joseph Elliot.

The films are available at For the full virtual reality effect, the videos can be viewed through the Facebook App.

In total, 61 schools in 11 states have participated in the Challenge since Spring 2016. Schools received 360° film production tools from Oculus, including the Samsung Gear VR headset and accompanying phone and Ricoh Theta S camera.

Digital Promise Global offers production support and resources through an online community space, including feedback and support from professional filmmakers. To complete the program, educators help students produce at least one 360° film for consideration in the national competition.

All four UCS high schools and UCSI participated in the program. The district was one of only five Michigan communities partnering with Digital Promise to provide students with 360 degree technology for video production courses.

Karen Cator, CEO of Digital Promise Global, said, “The 360 Filmmakers Challenge is a great example of powerful use of technology for learning, where students are fully engaged in creating something to make an impact on a real-world audience.”