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Cronkite Professor Launches Pilot Program Connecting Black Women Professors with Immersive Technology

April 28, 2021
Retha Hill, the director of the New Media Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, is using a grant from the Online News Association to help Black women professors learn the benefits of immersive technology in journalism.

Retha Hill

By Dzevida Sadikovic

Retha Hill, the director of the New Media Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, is using a grant from the Online News Association to help Black women professors learn the benefits of immersive technology in journalism.

Hill, a professor of practice at the Cronkite School, was awarded the grant through the Online News Association’s Journalism 360 Challenge, which aims to help journalists experiment with immersive storytelling techniques to help advance the field of journalism.

The grant allowed Hill to start “Expanding the Circle: Black Women in XR,” a pilot program in mid-January with six women educators from universities throughout the country that are fellow members of the National Association of Black Journalists.

Her goal is to help these Black women journalism instructors learn about immersive media, do some self-teaching, and then incorporate that into their journalism instruction.

Hill said there are not enough professors of color, and people of color in general, who are engaged in immersive media.
Immersive media includes virtual reality, augmented reality, photogrammetry and 360-degree videos that prepare students for their careers.

She said a lot of young people are making strides in social media, but not as many are working on advanced storytelling methods.

“In terms of people who are doing kind of upper-level work with immersive media and who are of color, it is not that many of us,” Hill said.

She also wants to engage with universities and schools with large diverse student populations. Hill’s group meets every Sunday for a couple of hours on Zoom. In addition, Hill meets one-on-one and in small groups with some of them during the week.

They all are busy, accomplished women who, like most journalism instructors, are not quite up to speed on the latest technology and need more time than currently allocated to their training, she said. As a result, Hill is preparing an in-person training week that will take place in the summer of 2021 now that the cohort is vaccinated.

Hill has been working in innovation and experimenting with new technology since 1995 where she went from The Washington Post newspaper to Digital Ink, which was the Post’s first online service before evolving into washingtonpost.com. She said she loves seeing the light bulb go off in people learning immersive media.

She wants to teach African American women professors of journalism what she does, “so they know how amazing it is to do these small projects.”

Hill is teaching these women in addition to leading the New Media Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab, one of the Cronkite School’s professional development programs. She and her students are exploring new technologies to present news and other stories in non-traditional ways.

The Lab has been building news games so students can learn how to code and use C Sharp (C#), its primary programming language, to tell stories about topics such as homelessness, the election, the opioid crisis and evacuations in the case of natural disaster. These games are interactive simulations that help people understand certain issues.

The Cronkite students who have graduated from this professional program are well-rounded and have more job opportunities, Hill said.

Hill wants to share the technology with as many people as she can so they can be competitive in the job market. In the 21st century, news and information will be delivered through new technology, and students and faculty, especially women and professors of color, should not be left behind.