Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Virtual Reality with Google Expeditions!

“Students, today we’ll be traveling to the Colosseum at Rome. We’ll be taking a tour inside to see where the gladiators fought. Then later on we’ll take an underwater tour of the Great Barrier Reef.”

Does this sound like your classroom? Probably not. Sadly, field trips to places like Rome or Egypt aren’t feasible. But what if you could bring these amazing destinations to your classroom?

Through the use of a cell phone and a virtual reality viewer, trips such as these are possible. My San Diego CUE grant was for Android Phones and ViewMaster VR viewers. Through different apps such as Google Cardboard, Google StreetView, and Google Expeditions, students can take virtual reality “field trips” to almost anywhere, even outer space!

The phones and viewers are very easy to use. The phone runs the apps and is placed into the VR viewer. The virtual reality app takes an image and splits it into two images. The viewer combines these images back into one 3D image. The effect is that the user feels like they are in the picture.

There are many applications for this technology. Social Studies lends itself particularly well. For example, you can find many pictures of the Pyramid at Giza, but to feel like you are walking around it brings a new appreciation. In science, you can take underwater journeys or go to the International Space Station.

The newest VR app is Google Expeditions. With this app, the teacher runs a “field trip” to a destination. The app gives five or six pictures of a location with background information and questions for the teacher to use. The teacher controls the students’ journeys, so no one virtually wanders off to another location. The Expeditions app is also expanding to include contributions from publishers such as Houghton Mifflin and many museums. They are continually adding new locations.

Nearpod VR is an app that provides lessons centered around VR experiences. The teacher starts the slideshow lesson (or it can be assigned to do independently) and the app controls what is on the student screens. There are VR locations imbedded in the slideshow. There is some free content, but most lessons require a small fee.

One of the main benefits is that students can internalize their learning. As an example, students studying the causes of the French revolution can experience the opulence of French royalty in a more personal way. This leads to higher depth of knowledge questions.

The most exciting part of using this technology is the level of enthusiasm from the students. Students can’t wait to take a field trip. The “oohs and ahhs” make this technology worth every penny!

By Christy Hansen

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