Google Takes Students on Virtual Field Trips

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High school physics teacher Austin Campbell gives his students a virtual tour of the Hadron Collider in Switzerland, via the immersive experience of Google Expeditions Pioneer Program. Image: Rick Tate.

The Google Expeditions Pioneer Program has been visiting classrooms nationwide to help students and teachers learn more about incorporating the immersive learning opportunities of the “virtual field trip”

The program utilizes the Google Cardboard viewers to help students bring abstract concepts to live and give them a deeper, more personal understanding of the world beyond the four walls of the classroom.

This includes a sort of virtual travel kits, with a tablet for the teacher and cardboard viewers and phones for reach students. My husband, Rick, requested to be part this program when we first purchased our own Google Cardboard device earlier this year. His high school was one of a handful of schools in the West Texas area chosen to receive a visit from program’s representatives, and get a hands-on test drive of Google Expeditions’ educational options.

These “field trips” come in the form of 360° photo spheres, 3D images and video,  and ambient sounds. These are annotated with points of interest, and other details that make these virtual trips easy to incorporate into the curriculum already being used in schools.

To make the experience even more memorable, entities like The Wildlife Conservation Society, PBS, the American Museum of Natural History, the Planetary Society, and the Palace of Versailles helped contribute to the program’s curriculum development.

One of the things that have made Google Expeditions so popular is the enthusiasm not just in the classroom, but also from the parents.

Google product manager Jen Holland said the feedback from parents for this program has been “stellar,” and may parents have signed up for the program hoping their son or daughter’s school would be selected.

“Many parents are volunteering on the day of the visit and after the visit are looking for ways to incorporate Expeditions further,” Holland explained. “Many PTA boards have also asked our team to run Expeditions at their monthly meetings so parents can check Expeditions out.”

In many communities, including my own border region, the multicultural landscape in schools is growing more visible, and Holland feels the immersive Expeditions experience gives students a better way to share their own cultural backgrounds with each other, not to mention learning more about their own nation’s history.

“Expeditions allows students to get a deeper and more personal understanding of cultures and historical events,” Holland said. “With Expeditions, students can immerse themselves in the 360 degree panoramas and explore in a totally new format.”

This is an experience, she said, that just isn’t obtained via other learning resources alone.

“Videos and textbooks don’t have the same immersiveness that Expeditions provides; students get the opportunity to ‘walk in someone’s shoes,’ and can get a glimpse into the various rich cultures that are out there,” Holland said. “They can explore museums, parks, city centers all from the confines of the classroom.”

One of Rick’s colleagues, geography teacher Chris Kapuscik, said the students’ response to the experience was phenomenal.

“I was fortunate enough to bring two of my classes to the Google cardboard simulations, and the students reactions were priceless when they first put on the Google Cardboard glasses,” he said. “The room instantly filled with positive noises as the students were visually transported to another world.”

He said one of the ways he knew the demonstration was successful, was the student were still talking about what they saw and experienced when they left the presentation.

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Human geography teacher Chris Kapuscik leads his students on a virtual field trip with the help of a tablet device, smart phones, and cardboard virtual reality viewers. Image: Rick Tate.

“As a teacher what I really like about it is the capabilities of bringing something to life for the students,” Kapuscik said. “I saw students for the first time this year seem to be really into the class, and students that didn’t normally talk were talking. The interactions that they had with each other were unique.”

What Kapuscik personally liked about using the Google Cardboard is teachers of several different subjects can be able to use these visualization techniques to supplement a lesson. This ability extends to students’ ability to use this program in their own homes. Even if students or school districts, don’t have the means to physically travel to other places in their country or around the globe, this program can help bring the world to them.

“In the home, kids can learn about new places and gain a sense of curiosity that would reflect on their education,” he said. “It would kind of be like they are learning without knowing they’re learning. I could already think of several ways I would use this in my class if I had my own set.”

Kapuscik said he hopes to see immersive visual experiences like this become a more frequent tool in the classroom.

“If they don’t become more common, then we need to find a way to make it more common because technology like this is only going to benefit the whole educational experiences,” he said. “As a teacher, not only would I be able to teach about a place but if I can bring them there it would help students internalize their learning.”

To learn more about GeekMom Lisa’s family’s experience with this program, see her post How Does Google’s Cardboard Hold Up?

Lisa Kay Tate is a veteran feature writer with 20 years experience in newspaper, magazine and freelance writing. In addition to serving as Associate Editor for her local arts and entertainment guide, El Paso Scene, she has been a regular contributor to the site ihogeek.com and maintains her own blogsite at lisathegeekmom.wordpress.com. She and her husband, writer/photographer Rick, live on the edge of "New Texico" where they keep busy raising their two geeklings and sharing space with their dog, Sirius Black, and cat, Loki.