Google Virtual Reality Academy at EARCOS 2017 (Part 2 – Google Expeditions)

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Sketchnotes of Google Virtual Reality Academy with Jay Atwood of EdTechTeam.

This is part 2 of a two part blog entry about my foray into the Google Virtual Reality Academy with Jay Atwood of the EdTechTeam at the EARCOS 2017 Teacher’s Conference here in Kota Kinabalu, Borneo, East Malaysia.

In part 1, I discussed how to assemble a Google Cardboard VR viewer and my initial exploration of the app necessary to use it. In this part, I will discuss how Google Expeditions works with the Google Cardboard apparatus. I’m also going to give my basic conclusions about what I loved about this app, potential places for development, possible ways to use the technology in classrooms now, and questions I have!

Google Expeditions – The Set Up

Using the Google Expeditions app, teachers and students can go on a virtual journey of visual discovery. In our VR session, in which Jay was the leader, we saw both aspects of various “Expeditions” currently available on the app: a guide (teacher) view and an explorer (student) view (although there is no reason why, for example, a student couldn’t be a guide as part of perhaps a summative assessment).

An expedition is, at this time, a Google-recognised and sanctioned “trip” through a slideshow of 360 degree photos, some of which might contain embedded sound recordings as well, seen in a seemingly 3D manner with a Google VR viewer of some sort, Cardboard or otherwise. (I say “Google-recognised” because at this time, normal users cannot simply create and post an Expedition. *We should all keep pestering Google, however, as Google, according to Jay Atwood, listens to user feedback.)

When users open the downloaded and installed Expedition app, they are first asked whether they would like to be guides or leaders; again, in most early cases, a teacher will be the guide while students will be explorers. Once a “role” has been chosen, Google offers some recent expedition suggestions, or you can search for a topic of your choosing. At this point, Jay pointed out a technical issue: it is best to download expeditions you want your students to explore onto ALL devices that will be involved – this includes the teacher’s phone, and all the phones (or iPads, more on this in a bit) that students will use in the course of this immersive, interactive experience.

(Note: Explorers and Guides need to connect to the same wifi router. While most schools will probably not allow these sorts of connections to be made on a school wide network, I got around this by making my iPhone an available wifi hotspot, linked my iPad and an Oppo phone to it and led an expedition using that technology set up. Otherwise, you can buy a small portable wifi router for connecting.)

Quick Procedure with Images for How to Set Up and Run an Expedition

Materials Needed:

  • Mobile phones and Google Cardboards for each student OR iPads/tablets to be shared between two students. Each device needs to have the Expeditions app downloaded.
  • iPad or tablet for teacher with Expeditions app downloaded (possibly with Personal Hotspot enabled).
  • If Personal Hotspotting is not a possibility, then you need a portable wifi router
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Portable Wifi Router

Steps:

  1. Teacher needs to log into the same wifi router that students will be using with the guide device, and/or enable a Personal Hotspot on the iPad.
  2. Teacher needs to open Expeditions app on the guide device, choose to Guide/lead, search for an Expedition topic of interest for students, and preferably download that collection of 360° degree photos.
  3. Students need to open Expeditions on their devices, choose to be Explorers/followers on an available Expedition (which by default will be the one available on the guide’s device if all parties are logged into the same router/hotspot). *If school does not have phones and Cardboard, students can go on an Expedition with a teacher/guide by hitting the “expansion” square towards the bottom right of the screen. If students have phones, they can insert phones into Cardboard now.
  4. Teacher waits to see the smiling faces of all his/her followers pop up.

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    In this image, from the Guide view, you can see there are no followers yet by looking at the people icon in the top right corner.
  5. When all faces appear, teacher can rotate image and click on certain items. Students will see arrows pointing them where they need to go.

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    In this image, in the Guide view again, you can see a follower in the form of a happy face. This happy face indicates where that follower is currently looking. The target is where the Guide has clicked on his/her screen as an area of focus for the followers.
  6. When all smiling faces of explorers are around an area of the image for discussion, teacher begins discussion.

What I appreciate about Google Expeditions (especially when combined with Google Cardboard):

Google Expeditions is a wonderful new way to engage in visual discovery with students. With carefully chosen Expeditions that connect to units of study, teachers can truly provide a much more immersive experience of many topics related to science, research, geography, history, and art. (A complete list in spreadsheet form can be found here. At this point, due to my relative inexperience with virtual reality, I find it truly amazing to put on the Cardboard apparatus. I’m sure this will be the same with students young and younger.

Google Expeditions could also be a fabulous tool, when in the research or “Finding Out” stage of inquiry, for students to describe the form of objects, or places they encounter while exploring. For example, my grade 1 students are currently inquiring into how the oceans are a resource that we have a responsibility to conserve. On the whole, through preassessments, I realised that most students have never experienced a coral reef through snorkelling. As coral reefs are such vital aspects of our oceans, I want students to have some experience in describing their characteristics and residents as a prelude to further learning. After a quick search of Google Expeditions, I found what seemed to be a perfect experience for my students to go on entitled “Preserved Oceans”. If we have the chance, I’m sure students would love to examine different corals and fauna in famous reefs from around the world.

What might be developed further:

As users, we cannot currently CREATE Google Expeditions that are fine tuned for our students. Likewise, students cannot create Expeditions to show their learning. I can think of possible reasons for this. Perhaps Google wants to keep the quality of Expeditions fairly high at this point in order to keep interest rising. To make a high quality near 360+°, you have to have a somewhat specialised camera rig up (which Google is allowing users to make 3D movies with that can be viewed online with Cardboard and YouTube – to be discussed in a further blog entry).

Still, I can see amazing possibilities in the future for students to demonstrate understanding of any variety of concepts through creation of VR videos and Expedition like experiences.

Also, the amount of technology necessary for students to fully engage in VR experiences through Google Expeditions can be prohibitive for many schools, despite the fact that you can get the viewers for a variety of prices (evidently for as low as $1.00 from some Chinese based manufacturers). For the best experience, a teacher would ideally have a class set of mobile phones and a class set of Google Cardboards. This can be gotten around somewhat if there is a half a class set of iPads or tablets with Expeditions, as I detailed above. However, the VR experience is much reduced in this case.

It would, in addition, be great if the quality of images presented to the eyes through Google Expeditions and Cardboard were slightly less pixelated. I realise that images must have begun as massive files that need to be compressed to go up onto the cloud in useful form, however it would be great to see a bit more clarity in the future and the potential for an explorer to zoom in while wearing Cardboard.

Another teacher at this conference mentioned that even for grade 7 students and after multiple uses of VR in class, it has been difficult to push students past the “wow!” factor of using apps like Google Expeditions into more calm usage that allows students to study some of the images presented through the app.

This might best show the need to use this type of experience even more, to get students and ourselves used to seeing the learning potential of Expeditions.

Stay tuned for further parts of this post in which I will discuss other apps related to Google Cardboard and Virtual Reality such as Cardboard, Cardboard Camera, and how to use Cardboard with other apps such as Within, Panoform, and YouTube.

Of course, I must explore further first.

A happy Monday morning reality, virtual or not, to all of you!

The author learning how to take hot air balloons into space.
The author learning how to take hot air balloons into space.

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