26 Oct Google Expeditions Brings the Virtual Reality Experience to Classrooms
Google is expanding its influence in education by offering free smartphone-based virtual reality systems to schools around the globe.
School field trips are expensive, especially when they involve traveling out of town. Yet, teachers always need new ways to keep students engaged in lessons, and hands-on experience is often the best option. Once again, Google is stepping in to offer a solution, giving educators the chance to take students on a journey without leaving the classroom.
Imagine the dilemma of a teacher who wants to plan a science segment on marine biology. She could organize an affordable aquarium field trip, but students would mostly be exposed to aquatic animals in controlled environments, rather than an authentic underwater biosphere. With Expeditions, students can explore the animal and plant life of a real coral reef. They can see turtles gliding through the water, red algae sprouting from rocks, and schools of fish darting between stalks of seaweed.
Google combined several of its existing products to design the virtual reality kits, starting with the cardboard viewing boxes made for Google Cardboard apps. At no cost to the participating schools, Google provides the viewing units equipped with Asus smartphones. The popular Google Street View app helped the company deliver an immersive, 360-degree virtual reality experience.
Google has also been working to produce original educational content for virtual field trips, including over 100 expeditions to foreign countries, animal habitats, museums, historic landmarks and archaeological ruins. Chicago English teacher, Jennie Choi, was among the early testers, and used Expeditions to take sixth-grade students at Mariano Azuela Elementary School on a tour of Verona, Italy. The class was studying Shakespeare, and the virtual tour helped students connect with the 16th century setting and characters by exploring the architectural landmarks that inspired the play’s romantic and tragic scenes.
Other virtual locations include Mars, Machu Picchu, the Galapagos Islands, the Freer Gallery and NASA space flights. So far, Google has invited schools from the United States, Australia, Brazil, the United Kingdom and New Zealand to pilot the Expeditions Pioneer program. The company is opening the free program to more schools, so interested teachers should visit the Google Expeditions website to check out the exhibition schedule.
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