Virtual Reality (VR) is one of the newest trends in both education and entertainment. With tools like Google Expeditions, students are able to take virtual field trips and view stunning images in 360 degrees. Movies, video games, and theme parks are also beginning to embrace virtual reality as a way to provide an immersive experience for customers. There is a ton of VR content that can be consumed by students and added to the classroom to enhance lessons, but are there ways for students to create VR content in the classroom?
Recently I organized a STEMfest at my school site, where 6th - 8th grade students had the opportunity to present a STEM-focused project to family and community members. Two separate groups of students decided to research ways to create 360 degree images that could be used in the Google Cardboard viewers at our STEMfest. One group wanted to explore taking 360 degree photos and the other group was interested in drawing a 360 degree image. I was really excited that these two groups wanted to explore ways of creating VR content, rather than simply consuming the content already available. The only issue was that I had absolutely no idea how to help them! So, I began to research, prototype, test, and fail, alongside with the students, while learning some pretty great tools for creating VR content in the classroom. Here is a summary of the two VR projects and some suggestions for getting started with VR in your classroom.
Photoshop to Create 360 Degree Art
The students that wanted to create a 360 degree drawing, were convinced that they could use Photoshop to accomplish their task. They watched several YouTube videos about using the Photoshop software to draw a 360 degree image, however the version of Photoshop in our STEM Lab is rather old (Photoshop Elements 4), and we were not sure if we could make it work. The students found an online image of Disneyland that was 360 degrees/panorama and imported that photo into the Photoshop software. Then, they used the image as a template for their drawing, using a Wacom tablet and stylus to draw over and modify the existing image. The final product was uploaded into the iPhone app “VR Viewer” ($0.99) and the iPhone was placed into a Google Cardboard to be viewed in VR.
Google Cardboard Camera App for Creating 360 Degree Photographs
The second group of students who wanted to explore Virtual Reality decided that they would use their cell phones to take 360 degree images of our school and create a sort of virtual tour. After playing with several different apps, including Google Street View, they decided that the Google Cardboard Camera app was the best choice for them. The students used their cellphones to capture images around the school in 360 degrees. They included the cafeteria, the library, the playground, and several other areas in the school virtual tour. Within the app, the students were able to save their images to a Gallery, then view them in virtual reality with the Google Cardboard viewer.
Start Creating VR Content in Your Classroom
Both of the VR projects were very successful and quite the crowd-pleasers at our STEMfest event. Obviously, most schools do not have access to Photoshop software and Wacom drawing tablets, so that might not be the best place to start with creating VR content.
After assisting both student groups with creating content for VR, I would highly recommend beginning with the Google Cardboard Camera app (available for multiple devices/platforms). Allow your students to explore the app by taking 360 degree images of the classroom or school, and then view the images with a Google Cardboard viewer, (or something similar) if possible. Even without the Cardboard viewer, students can view the images in 360 degrees on their device.
Once students are comfortable with the Cardboard Camera app, there is an opportunity to extend beyond the classroom with other VR apps, such as Google Street View. In the Google Street View app, students can view 360 degree photo spheres in Google Maps, and even contribute their own 360 degree images for others to view. Creating content and extending beyond the walls of the classroom are important for students today, and incorporating virtual reality into the classroom is a great way to engage and excite students in both of these areas.
Heather Love-Fleck, SDCUE Innovative TOSA 2017
Heather Love-Fleck is an EdTech TOSA for Oceanside Unified School District. In addition to supporting staff with technology, she also facilitates a STEM lab at Stuart Mesa Elementary school. Heather believes it is important to create a classroom environment where students can be problem finders, risk-takers, and creators. She encourages students to wonder, question, collaborate, fail, and reflect on everything they do. Heather has been teaching for 10 years, working with students in grades K-8. She shares her innovative classroom ideas with colleagues by presenting at district-level professional learning opportunities, as well as larger conferences, such as the National CUE and SDCUE Tech Fair. Heather shares her EdTech ideas and classroom lessons on her blog www.mrsfleck.com/blog and on Twitter @mrslovefleck.