This Northeastern University Dialogue of Civilizations program will introduce students to documentary/journalistic storytelling with an emphasis on augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). Students participate in a studio course based in Toronto working in collaboration with local media makers to produce three prototypes and then travel to England to participate in a seminar course based on attending Sheffield Doc/Fest, a top-five international documentary festival. Here students will see cutting-edge emerging media works and interact with creators and industry experts.

In Toronto we will be based at the Northeastern University Toronto Campus. From this hub we draw guest speakers, workshop leaders, and production collaborators from the academic institutions, cultural organizations, and media makers in Toronto, providing a unique mix of urban culture, academic expertise, and creative professionals.

In Sheffield we will partner with Sheffield Hallam University and Sheffield Doc/Fest, an international documentary festival held annually. Sheffield Doc/Fest is the UK’s biggest documentary festival and the third largest in the world. The festival runs several major programs, we will focused primarily on the

  • Alternative Realities Summit (a full day of sessions offering participants the opportunity to network with leading experts and creators during breakout sessions and roundtable discussions), and
  • Alternative Realities Exhibition (showcasing leading-edge VR, AR, and interactive projects), including an exclusive roundtable conversation with Dan Tucker, Curator, Alternative Realties Exhibition.


Toronto, Canada
Students explore the city from a number of perspectives, learning of its history, and experienced its vibrant cultural landscape by visiting museums, galleries, and observing material culture, providing a rich context through which to understand emerging forms of storytelling in a documentary or  journalistic context. In Toronto we’ll visit Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), one of the largest galleries in North America with significant collections of Canadian art, modern art, and contemporary art. Four art works at the AGO have been remixed using AR technology that was part of their recent Reblink exhibition but remain available. We’ll also visit House of VR, a VR arcade and the National Film Board of Canada’s Ontario Production Studio including a lecture on the history of NFB innovations in emerging media and sneak previews of  emerging media works in progress.

Sheffield, England
Sheffield is home to Sheffield Doc/Fest and provides a unique context for understanding the emerging fields of Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality. Sheffield, in the eastern foothills of the Pennines, gained an international reputation during the industrial revolution with the development of crucible and stainless steel. International competition coinciding with the collapse of coal mining caused a decline during the 20th century, however, Sheffield has seen extensive redevelopment in the 21st century with steady growth driven by innovation, education, and creative industry sectors. The city is home to the world’s oldest football club, the World Snooker Championship, two major universities, and several museums. While in Sheffield we’ll visit the Kelham Island Museum in order to learn about Sheffield’s industrial past where we’ll see reconstructed little mesters’ workshops, England’s largest surviving Bessemer converter, and the River Don engine, a working a 12,000 horsepower steam engine which originally powered a local armor plate rolling mill.


The two courses complement each other. The first is a studio course, providing insights through media making and reflection on the process to help students develop foundation-level skills designing and producing works in a documentary and/or journalistic context. The second course provides students with the essential historical, critical, and cultural perspectives to understand contemporary emerging media practice and the macro trends shaping the industry.

ARTE 2500 / ARTE 5901 Alternative Realities Studio
Introduces students to design and production techniques in the emerging field of immersive/virtual reality/augmented reality documentary and journalistic works and culminates in the production of three prototypes produced in collaboration with local media makers. Exposure to innovative practitioners, history of the medium, local culture, museums, and urban geography provide focus of study and creative exploration. Students participate in three six-day intensive workshops: Studio I: Visual Storytelling; Studio II: Augmented Reality Storytelling; Studio III: Virtual Reality / 360 Video Storytelling. During Studio II students work in collaboration with community organizations as they learn how empathic design and ethnographic reconnaissance techniques can deepen their storytelling.

ARTE 2501 / ARTH 5902 Alternative Realities Seminar
Introduces students to the cultural and economic ecosystem of funders, producers, and viewers of immersive, virtual reality, and augmented reality documentary and journalistic works with a focus on works being produced in Canada, the U.K., and Europe. Includes direct encounters with exemplary works and their creators. Provides historical context and critical perspectives on immersive storytelling and technology delivery platforms. Students produce text essays along with photographic and/or video essays of their experience attending the Alternative Realities Exhibition and their encounters at the Alternative Realities Summit while attending  Sheffield Doc/Fest, a top-five international documentary festival.

Program faculty

David Tamés, Program Leader, Visual Storytelling Workshop Instructor
David is an Assistant Teaching Professor with a joint-appointment in the Department of Art + Design and the Program in Media and Screen Studies in the College of Arts, Media and Design at Northeastern University. He is a documentary media maker working in both linear and interactive forms and holds a MS from the MIT Media Lab and a MFA from MassArt .

Cindy Sherman Bishop, Augmented Reality Workshop Instructor
Cindy is an interactive artist and coder currently working on various projects at the intersection between art, film, and technology, most recently, VRDoodler.com and ARCatz. She also codes for media health and justice at the Civic Media Lab @MIT. Cindy earned an MFA in Communication Design at the Dynamic Media Institute at MassArt.

Karen Vanderborght, 360 Video and VR Workshop Instructor
Karen’s career stretches from curating the Brussels underground media art scene to creating documentary content for Canadian broadcasters. She also tinkers with code and plays with interactive tools embracing 360 video and VR to take stories to places they have never gone before. Karen studied at the LUCA School of Arts in Brussels.

Elizabeth Littlejohn, Community outreach coordinator, Toronto arts and culture guide
Elizabeth is a professor in the Communication, Culture and Information Technology program at Sheridan College, a joint program with the University of Toronto at Mississauga. She is an urban activist, journalist, and filmmaker, engaged in issues regarding sustainable transit implementation and design. She holds an MFA from Tisch School of the Arts, New York University.

Guest speakers

Cindy Poremba
Cindy is an Assistant Professor (Digital Entertainment) at OCAD University and a digital media researcher, gamemaker, and curator who works at the intersection of technology, culture, art, and games.

Amy Lavender Harris
Amy  is the author of Imagining Toronto, which was shortlisted for the Gabrielle Roy Prize in Canadian literary criticism and won the 2011 Heritage Toronto Award of Merit. She is a contributing editor with Spacing Magazine, for which she writes a regular column on urban literature. Amy’s next book, Acts of Salvage, explores what the contemporary city compels us to cling to or discard.

Natalie Gyenes
Natalie is a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society and a research affiliate at the MIT Media Lab Center for Civic Media. Her current research focuses on how digital media portrays and influences issues of health and wellbeing, human rights and access to services. She worked with the UN Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, developed guidelines for health professionals working with trauma-affected refugees, and attended the Harvard School of Public Health.

Nyla Innuksuk
Nyla is a filmmaker and VR content creator based in Toronto. She founded NKSK in order to create immersive, interactive and cinematic content in new platforms such as 360, VR, and AR space. She is a graduate of Ryerson University’s film program.

Peter (Zak) Zakrzewski
Peter is a media scholar-maker, UX designer and a design and innovation coach. He is an adjunct faculty in the Schulich MBA, program, and the Integrated Digital Media at the School of Image Arts at Ryerson University. He is currently  authoring the book Empathic Disruption (MIT Press).

Marc Serpa Francoeur
Marc is a principal at Lost Time Media, a Toronto-based production company focused on engaging social issue documentary and interactive projects and co-creator with Robinder Uppal of The World in Ten Blocks. He earned a MFA in documentary media at Ryerson University with a focus on interactive storytelling.

Celia Pearce
Celia is an Associate Professor of Game Design at Northeastern University specializing in multiplayer gaming and virtual worlds, independent, art, and alternative game genres, as well as games and gender, she will be participating in the Sheffield portion of the program.

Colin Pons
Colin is the Course Leader of the MA Filmmaking program at Sheffield Hallam University where he motivates new talent to produce cutting edge content. He has worked in a variety of roles in the UK film and TV industry over the last 25 years and is a founding director of The Showroom Cinema, The Workstation,  and Sheffield Doc/Fest.

Dan Tucker
Is a creative digital producer who has worked in both television and interactive media managing large content teams and delivering multiple projects for multiple platforms including VR, mobile gaming and web. In 2017 he became Curator of the Alternate Realities program for Sheffield DocFest. He is passionate about telling stories that combine compelling narrative and playful interaction.