Immersive experiences are more than virtual insanity
At one point in my life, virtual reality was really nothing more than something that might be part of a ride at a theme park. Now, however, thanks to Google and some nifty cardboard folding, it could well become a normal part of classrooms around the world. Google Cardboard, a virtual reality (VR) headset made out of, well, cardboard, promises to give everyone the chance to experience virtual reality in a simple, fun and affordable way. You install the app on your smartphone, insert said phone into the cardboard headset and run a number of VR experiences.
They’ve gone one step further to bringing this into classrooms though with the launch of their Google Expeditions app. The big difference with this app is that it allows a teacher to choose a virtual trip and for the students to follow it.The teacher can pause the VR trip at any time, move onto the next scene and even direct their students to focus in on one specific part of it by double tapping on a particular area.
It has to be said, it is very simple to use. Some of my colleagues and I got to try it out last week, when a team from Google visited my school. After a brief training session, we were good to go – this is something the app has in its favour. The fact that it is free and the Cardboard headset is pretty cheap is also a big bonus. However, Google really need to develop a version for tablets – assuming that schools have mobile phone-sized devices is a bit of an oversight.
Can something like Google Expeditions have a real impact or is it just a bit of a passing fad?Like anything though, it comes down to impact as well as cost: can something like Google Expeditions have a real impact or is it just a bit of a passing fad?Well, here’s the thing: every class from Year 3 to 6 had a go when Google visited us and I can honestly say they all loved it, which is a good start.
To my mind, it could make a great stimulus. Just as you might use a video clip or still image to kickstart a lesson, inspire a piece of writing or explore a theme, you could use a virtual reality field trip in this way. The fact that the VR element makes the student feel like they are actually in that image just adds to the power of it. What’s more, you are likely to find a Google Expedition that relates to a part of the curriculum you are teaching; they have everything from a trip around the digestive system to one that involves swimming with sharks, and they’re adding new content all the time.
So, all in all, while virtual reality technology in classrooms may sound like the anti-ed tech brigade’s nightmare, the actual reality is that if it comes in the form of a free app – one that could be downloaded on devices the school already owns – and a fairly cheap headset, then it’s not a huge outlay and could well become as common as showing a video clip on a whiteboard.