Google Expeditions: A useful resource for educators and for their professional development

Figure: A teacher showing the Google Expedition of Respiratory System to his Year 11 students. (photo by Shailey Minocha)

GOOGLE EXPEDITIONS

Google Expeditions is a Virtual Reality approach comprising of 360-degree photospheres of a location (e.g. a museum, or a city like Rio de Janeiro, an active volcano) along with the description of location, points of interest and suggested questions for discussion. Using a Tablet and via the Google Expeditions App (for Android and iOS), a teacher can guide students. Students experience the Google Expeditions through the smartphones embedded within the Virtual Reality (VR) viewers called Google cardboard.

About the project

The Open University (OU), UK is conducting a school-based research project (funded by Google and the OU) on the potential use of Virtual Reality via Google Expeditions in science and geography in school education.

Role of Google Expeditions in learning and teaching

In our earlier blog-posts, we have discussed about the role of Google Expeditions in learning and teaching and in supporting a variety of pedagogical approaches such as:

There are over 500 expeditions in the Google Expeditions App which could be useful for teachers in enhancing their subject knowledge and for preparing them for their lessons.

Google Expeditions App: A useful resource for educators

These are some observations from the data in our project.

Using the Google Expeditions App, educators can visit locations from tropical rainforests in Borneo to pyramids in Egypt and to Great Barrier Reef to familiarise themselves to diverse habitats. A science curriculum leader commented:

“There may be some [...] benefits, such as familiarising teachers with a range of habitats so that they are able to use different examples when explaining ecological concepts.”

A geography curriculum leader mentioned about how the resources in the Google Expeditions could fill gaps in the knowledge

“The thing that is springing to mind at the moment is subject knowledge because a lot of trainees are coming… We've talked about having lots of disparate traditions of teaching geography and so geography degrees are very different depending on where you study. Some people are coming into the profession with very strong physical geography subject knowledge, for example, but quite weak human geography and that sort of thing.”

The virtual field trips can help educators to prepare them for physical field trips such as risk assessment, preparing enquiry before the physical field trip and even planning and hazard analysis about how to manage a group of students on a physical field trip. 

 “ [some teachers] don’t feel confident they understand what they want the children to achieve as a consequence of doing fieldwork outside. So that would be an area I think where teachers would see a direct need for CPD [continuing professional development] and I think that GE[s] [Google Expeditions] could help with that.”

In a subsequent blog-post, we will share further observations from the data.

If you would like to share your experiences and thoughts on this topic, please submit your comments to this blog-post. Alternatively, please send your thoughts by email through the envelope icon at the bottom of the page. Thank you. 

THE PROJECT TEAM

Dr Ana-Despina Tudor and Professor Shailey Minocha at The Open University, UK 

Dr. Matthew Kam, Research Lead, Google Education Products Team

The project partners in the UK are:

Field Studies Council (Dr Steve Tilling and Mr Dave Morgan);

Association for Science Education (Mr Richard Needham and Ms Marianne Cutler); and

Geographical Association (Ms Becky Kitchen).

Investigating the role of virtual reality in geography via Google Expeditions

Blog post by Dr Ana-Despina Tudor, The Open University, UK @AATudor

THE PROJECT AND GOOGLE EXPEDITIONS

The Open University (OU), UK is conducting a school-based research project (funded by Google and the OU) on the potential use of Virtual Reality via Google Expeditions in science and geography in school education.

Google Expeditions is a Virtual Reality approach comprising of 360-degree photospheres of a location (e.g. a museum, or a city like Rio de Janeiro, an active volcano) along with the description of location, points of interest and suggested questions for discussion.

Investigating the role of virtual reality in geography via Google Expeditions

At the Geographical Association’s annual conference (20th to 22nd April, 2017), we held a workshop with 24 geography educators on investigating the role of virtual reality in geography via Google Expeditions.

We first showed several Expeditions to the educators, such as Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo or Borneo Rainforest: Plant Adaptations. We then invited participants to share their experience on teaching geography with a focus on inquiry-based learning. We asked educators to discuss:

  1. their inquiry-based learning (IBL) practices in geography lessons and how they would use virtual reality for IBL in lessons;
  2. discuss their IBL practices before, during and after a field trip and how they would use virtual reality to practice IBL for fieldwork.

The presentation file of this workshop is available here

Geographical inquiry is an approach to teaching and learning that places students’ questions, ideas and observations at the centre of the learning experience. In our workshop we referred to Roberts' Inquiry Process model and we focused on how virtual reality can contribute towards the first steps of the inquiry process: creating a need to know and in formulating questions for the enquiry process.

Our reflections from the workshop are as follows.

Inquiry-based learning in geography lessons with virtual reality

With virtual reality or Google Expeditions:

  • Teachers can create the need to know by first introducing a topic and giving an overview of a theme, e.g., volcanoes in a more engaging way – “in the hyper-stimulating world our students live in, these images are a hook to interest them – it is engaging“ (Geography teacher)
  • By showing various places around the world, educators said that they could grab the attention of the students and familiarise them with new places as well as convey the context of those places in an easier manner – “break down a single story of a distant place” (Geography teacher).
  • Virtual reality can be used as “hook” together with other resources as well: “[discuss] what a map of Rio looks like compared to what the reality is and getting students to kind of compare those two resources” (Geography teacher)

Once students are through with initial exploration, educators proposed using frameworks, such as the 4Ws (Who is Where, When, doing What) or “I wonder” games to stimulate questioning. Students may develop questions either alone or in groups.

Inquiry-based learning for Physical fieldwork

With virtual reality or Google Expeditions:

  • Before a physical field trip, educators first establish the level of actual knowledge about that location and where lies the need to know. They may use the KWL framework - what-we know; what we want to know; and what we learned (Ogle, 1986).
  • Virtual reality (either alone or in combination with other resources such as maps, Google Earth) could then be used to provide students with comprehensive information about the fieldwork location.
  • Prior knowledge helps plan the inquiry steps before arriving at the location; help to focus the attention of students in the field (e.g., on data collection); and save time when in the field: “use VR [Virtual Reality] to model fieldwork inquiry process so that students are familiar with questions and structure of fieldwork” (Geography teacher)
  • While in the field, educators suggest using Google Expeditions to compare and contrast the location they are visiting with other locations in the world or with the same location but at different points in time (e.g., seasonal changes, historical views): “for example, you go to this local place and then you go and compare it with another place, which is similar but in another part of the world to […] investigate some questions in a different location” (Geography teacher)
  • After the fieldwork, geography educators would use Virtual Reality as a revision tool to recollect the visited place and contextualise the newly acquired knowledge for further inquiry.

Geography educators concluded that the use of virtual reality of Google Expeditions in geography lessons and for fieldwork as a part of a “jigsaw” of resources they would use in geography teaching to create the need to know (Roberts, 2013) and to encourage students to practice formulating questions both in the classroom and for physical fieldwork.

Please look at our previous blog-post on geographical inquiry for more details on the role of smartphone-driven virtual reality in inquiry-based learning.

References

Ogle, D. (1986). K-W-L: A teaching model that develops active reading of expository text. The Reading Teacher, 39, 564-570.

Roberts, M. (2013) Geography through enquiry: Approaches to teaching and learning in the secondary school. Sheffield: Geographical Association, 2013.

Workshop organisers: 

Steve Tilling, Field Studies Council

Ana-Despina Tudor and Shailey Minocha, The Open University

Rebecca Kitchen, Geographical Association

THE PROJECT TEAM

Dr Ana-Despina Tudor and Professor Shailey Minocha at The Open University, UK 

Dr. Matthew Kam, Research Lead, Google Education Products Team

The project partners in the UK are:

Field Studies Council (Dr Steve Tilling and Mr Dave Morgan);

Association for Science Education (Mr Richard Needham and Ms Marianne Cutler); and

Geographical Association (Ms Becky Kitchen).

Role of smartphone-driven virtual reality field trips in inquiry-based learning 

Images: Buttress Roots in Borneo rainforests represent a plant adaptation in tropical rainforests (Google Expedition GE: Borneo Rainforest, Plant Adaptations); a scene on reshaping-land by Tolbachik volcano (GE: Tolbachik volcano); scanned snippet from a student activity sheet listing the questions after having seen the GE of Borneo Rainforest, Plant Adaptations

At the Geographical Association’s annual conference (20th to 22nd April, 2017), we presented a research paper on the “Role of smartphone-driven virtual reality field trips in inquiry-based learning” (presentation pdf). In this blog-post, we share our reflections on the paper.

Google Expeditions

Google Expeditions is a Virtual Reality approach comprising of 360-degree photospheres of a location (e.g. a museum, or a city like Rio de Janeiro, an active volcano) along with the description of location, points of interest and suggested questions for discussion. Using a Tablet and via the Google Expeditions App (for Android and iOS), a teacher can guide students. Students experience the Google Expeditions through the smartphones embedded within the Virtual Reality (VR) viewers called Google cardboard.

Geographical enquiry

Our research project’s objective has been to examine the potential role of VR in science and geography in schools. In this research paper, we outlined some of the results of our empirical investigations related to whether 360-degree photosphere VR on smartphones as in Google Expeditions can support geographical enquiry.

Geographical enquiry is an approach to teaching and learning that places students’ questions, ideas and observations at the centre of the learning experience. It is a question-driven investigative approach that expects students to enquire actively into issues and problems.

For example, if the students were planning a field trip to an area that has changed due to regeneration – then ahead of the field trip, students may develop questions for investigations in the field: the impact on transport and commercial infrastructure; is it a sustainable regeneration; impact on local people and any changes in life styles, etc. Another example of an enquiry is students looking at the photographs and related news items on coral bleaching in Great Barrier Reef and developing questions related to coral bleaching. The nature of the enquiry is dependent on the steer by the teacher and is generally based in the learning outcomes of the lesson and the curriculum.

The teacher facilitates the activities of investigative enquiry (on UK's Geographical Association site: http://www.geography.org.uk/gtip/mentoring/geography/curriculumplanning/frameworkforenquiry/): encouraging a questioning attitude; enabling the collection of evidence or resources; opportunities to students for thinking geographically and how to make sense of the data to answer the questions; and finally, how to reflect on the learning.

Creating the need to know

The foundation of enquiry is ‘creating the need to know’ amongst the students and sparking their curiosity, and for students to formulate questions for enquiry. In our project, we have specifically focused on whether and how Google Expeditions (GEs) can support the questioning in geographical enquiry.

Our investigations have involved: observing Geography lessons that have used one or more GEs in secondary schools; analysis of the lesson-observations; and assessment of the nature of questions that are generated by the students during these lessons. The teachers reported that the students generate more questions (than usual) in lessons that involve GEs. Also, the questions are high-order (as compared to lower-order or factual/temporal questions) and have one of more of the following features: are analytical, enquire about impact, or are evaluative.

For example,

How did the mangrove leaves adapt to take in the salt? (Year 10, Geography, GE: Borneo Rainforest: Plant Adaptations)
Can the colour of the coral before it’s been drained come back? (Year 8, Geography, Climate Change and The Great Barrier Reef Expeditions)

Creating question “hooks” in student’s minds

Research which was originally conducted in the History but has since been applied in Geography, Science and related disciplines that have enquiry integral to their curriculum, has shown that there is a need for a “hook” to raise curiosity and to give students a range of areas to think about for their inquiry questions. This hook or initial stimulation material (ISM) could be a photo, a painting, video, a presentation, a map, or a role-play activity.

An ISM helps to cultivate conceptual understanding through concrete examples that connect with the students known and familiar experience of the concepts they are learning about or places that they plan to visit. The affordances of visualisation, 360-degree visual authenticity and 360-degree navigation of GEs along with over 500 expeditions or case studies – facilitate understanding the context where educators relate subject matter content to real-world situations and give students probes to think about and situate their newly acquired knowledge within a wider context.

Author affiliations: 

Alan Parkinson, King’s Ely Junior School

Rebecca Kitchen, Geographical Association

Ana-Despina Tudor and Shailey Minocha, The Open University, UK

Steve Tilling, Field Studies Council

THE PROJECT TEAM

Dr Ana-Despina Tudor and Professor Shailey Minocha at The Open University, UK 

Dr. Matthew Kam, Research Lead, Google Education Products Team

The project partners in the UK are:

Field Studies Council (Dr Steve Tilling and Mr Dave Morgan);

Association for Science Education (Mr Richard Needham and Ms Marianne Cutler); and

Geographical Association (Ms Becky Kitchen).

Wearable Activity Trackers for Carers and those they care for

Photos from the workshop at Carers Milton Keynes offices in Central Milton Keynes (photos taken by Dr. Duncan Banks), February 2017

Wearable activity trackers (e.g. wrist-bands from Fitbit or Jawbone, or smart watches from Apple or Samsung), track daily fitness levels such as heart rate, sleep patterns, or calories expended. We have been exploring the potential of this kind of device for carers and the people they care for.

Project details

As a part of a project funded by the Sir Halley Stewart Trust, The Open University has worked with Carers MK (Milton Keynes) to run a survey and subsequently a workshop with some of the participants from the survey. Our aim was to ask the opinions of carers about using digital health wearables (whether or not they already use them). Their inputs will help us to understand whether and how wearables could be effectively used if they became a part of healthcare: caring, monitoring and self-management of health.

Observations from the data

From a preliminary analysis of the data we have made some initial observations:

For carers: Carers may not sleep well or may not get the chance to go out for a walk or a run, but may not realise that they haven’t had a lot of physical activity during the day. Walking has been shown to improve mental performance and reduce cognitive decline as we age, and our previous research showed that walking with others can help reduce social isolation and loneliness. Carers in this study said they would find devices useful to monitor their own health and activity – specifically, their sleep patterns and level of activity.

For people they care for: Carers felt that activity monitors could also be useful for the people that they care for. In the survey, carers mentioned interest in data about the person they cared for including: sleep patterns, calories expended, a map of the area walked and distance and steps walked, activity data over a period of time, heart rate, UV exposure, data that shows some movement has taken place, and warning that a condition is deteriorating for some reason. A carer in the workshop mentioned concern about monitoring the weight of her daughter because of her health condition. 

The carers felt that people who are being cared for could feel in control of their health and well-being through using such devices to monitor: exercise levels, dietary needs, sleep patterns, reminders for medications, and reminders to move. They might also get a sense of safety and confidence from being able to track the whereabouts of their carer; and a sense of security (‘security knowing that [their] condition was monitored for deterioration so that they didn’t have to remember or make contact’).

Caring or monitoring at a distance: Carers discussed the advantage of being able to monitor well-being from a distance, e.g. if they don’t live together, if the carer or the person being cared for has gone out for an errand or a walk - ‘to monitor health in a low-key way that is not intrusive and give them independence to cope when they are doing well’.

Concerns about these devices: However, carers expressed concerns about the use of such devices. These devices seldom cater for accessibility and age-related impairments, such as those associated with memory, vision, dexterity. They generally require interfacing with Tablets or smart-phones for transfer and display of data and some need charging every day. So, there are technical requirements and usability barriers for optimal use of these devices. Carers were also concerned about the people being cared for and themselves not knowing how to make sense of the data from these devices – and whether this data may ‘create confusion and unnecessary worry’

Carers were concerned that if the person being cared for is very old, there might be issues about their ability to use such devices, to remember to wear them and to make use of them for self-monitoring. Motivation to use a wearable might be a problem.

The data from these devices, although not always accurate, provides useful trends on the activity levels and sleep patterns which may influence people to change their life styles. The data collected over a period of time may provide useful insights to healthcare professionals.

Participation in the survey

If you are a carer and are interested in contributing to this research, please visit this link https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/health-wearables-for-the-person-being-cared-for or http://bit.ly/2iN4YSd to participate in this survey. The survey will take 6-8 minutes to complete.

The university’s Human Research Ethics Committee has approved this research. If you have any questions about the project or the survey, please contact Professor Shailey Minocha: shailey.minocha@open.ac.uk

Contributors to this strand of research on carers

Mrs. Sue Bowering and Mr. Robert Benn, Carers MK (Milton Keynes)

Professor Shailey Minocha, Dr Caroline Holland, Dr Duncan Banks, Ms. Catherine McNulty and Dr. Ana-Despina Tudor, The Open University, UK

This project (May 2016 - April 2017) has been funded by the Sir Halley Stewart Trust. The views expressed in this article are those of the project team and not necessarily those of the Trust.

Technology in Schools: Factors that influence adoption and impact on learning

In response to the commentary in the seminar notice being organised by Guardian Teacher Network: Technology in schools: money saver or money waster? on 15th June in the UK, these are some of my reflections on the factors that can support the effective use of digital technologies in learning and teaching in schools. Examples of such technologies include Power Point presentations, videos from YouTube, or apps on iPads, to smartphone-based virtual reality applications. 

The effectiveness of any technology in teaching and learning depends on a number of factors:

  • how does the technology add to the traditional approach of teaching the same concept or process or lesson;
  • whether and how the technology is aligned with the learning goals of teaching and learning?
  • if there is more than one technology being employed in a lesson or learning activity – say, a set of YouTube videos with a Virtual Reality smartphone-driven App such as Google Expeditions, how does the content and the delivery of each of these technologies complement one other?
  • training the educator has received to use the technology and to integrate it within teaching and learning

An educator has to consider the following to be able to choose and use a technology effectively:

  • a clear understanding of the learning objectives and what students are expected to learn from a lesson/activity in which the use of technology is being planned
  • training to adopt the technology in her teaching
  • an understanding of her students’ skill-set – do students know how to learn with the technology?; which digital practices do her students bring to their learning in school?
  • to link the use of technology in her lessons with what the students are learning in other subjects – so as to give a broader context of her lesson and the use of technology.
  • to explain the role of the technology to her students so that they know what to expect and what is expected from them.
  • New technology does not automatically lead to increased attainment. What expectations does she have from the technology?
  • does she have help from ‘digital leaders’?

Teachers need support and time to learn to use new technology effectively. This involves more than just learning how to use the technology; it should include support to understand how it can be used for learning. Schools rarely budget for training and continuing professional development even though these are often essential in ensuring the technology is properly used, and that the use is improved and sustained over a period of time.

Using technologies to support learning in school curriculum – such as, use of a blog for improving literacy skills and for reflective learning, technologies can help impart digital literacy skills to students and give them transferable skills for their future education and employment. Students learn how to interact safely in online worlds, how to manage their digital identity, and to evaluate and make sense of information in online environments.    

Resources

Survey Finds Majority of Teachers Do Not Feel Prepared to Use Technology in Classrooms, https://news.samsung.com/us/survey-finds-majority-of-teachers-do-not-feel-prepared-to-use-technology-in-classrooms/

Five questions to ensure effective technology CPD in schools, http://tdtrust.org/five-questions-to-ensure-effective-technology-cpd-in-schools

Is digital technology changing learning and teaching? The big debate from Digifest 2017, https://www.jisc.ac.uk/news/is-digital-technology-changing-learning-and-teaching-15-mar-2017

Student Digital Leaders and their role in Digital Education in schools

Class set up for a lesson using Google Expeditions

Class set up for a lesson using Google Expeditions

THE PROJECT AND GOOGLE EXPEDITIONS

The Open University (OU), UK is conducting a research project (funded by Google and the OU) on the potential use of Virtual Reality via Google Expeditions in science and geography school education.

Google Expeditions is a Virtual Reality mobile Application (app) which consists of field trips of places that students experience on a smartphone through a Virtual Reality (VR) viewer called Google cardboard.  The Google Expeditions app (available for Android and iOS platforms) has more than 500 expeditions. An expedition comprises of 360-degree photospheres of a location (e.g. Rio de Janeiro). Google Expeditions enable visualisation of locations which may not be feasible or easy to visit in real life (e.g. Galapagos islands or the Tolbachik volcano). Further, Google Expeditions have simulations to envision concepts and systems such as the human heart, the respiratory system, or the process of pollination.

Student digital leaders

In our evaluations on this project, we interacted with a primary school that has 1:1 iPads for their students from Year 4 onwards. We ran two studies in this school:

  • Google Expeditions on iPads; and viewing Google Expeditions via the VR viewers on smartphones
  • A lesson that used videos and power point presentations, and running the same lesson using Google Expeditions via VR viewers or Google Cardboard.

We noticed that the use of iPads in lessons ran smoothly with the help of a group of students called ‘Digital Leaders’. They handed over the equipment to the students at the start of the lesson and collected it at the end of the lesson. They were responsible for keeping the mobile apps updated, keeping the iPads charged, and installing new apps on the iPads.

One of the key obstacles for adoption of technologies in schools is the time it takes for the educator in maintaining the technologies – particularly, if dedicated IT support is not available in the school. Student digital leaders are an essential element to a school’s digital education strategy and can help support the sustainability of digital education initiatives in schools.

Digital Leaders are students chosen for their high level of interest and digital skills, and their ability to support class teachers in their use of learning technologies. This has become common practice in primary and secondary schools in the UK. [ETAG (Education Technology Action Group] report, https://ictevangelist.com/etag-education-technology-action-group-report/ January 2015]

Students selected and trained to be Digital Leaders can help to embed the technology in lessons, support other students, train educators, train students about e-safety, and in the process, the digital leaders gain technical competence, transferable digital literacy skills for their future studies and careers, develop confidence to deal with emerging technologies, increase their self-esteem, and attain leadership skills.

With the help of digital leaders on hand, the teacher is able to concentrate more on aligning the use of technology to the learning outcomes, to help students use the technology for their learning, on assessment for learning, and to evaluate the impact on learning by the digital education initiative.

These are some resources on the Digital Leader programme in UK schools.

THE PROJECT TEAM

Dr. Matthew Kam, Research Lead, Google Education

Professor Shailey Minocha and Dr Ana-Despina Tudor at The Open University, UK 

The project partners in the UK are:

Field Studies Council (Dr Steve Tilling and Mr Dave Morgan);

Association for Science Education (Mr Richard Needham and Ms Marianne Cutler); and

Geographical Association (Ms Becky Kitchen).

Virtual-Reality Google Expeditions Augment the Physical field trip Experience

Workshop with fieldworkers earlier this year at the Field Studies Council Offices in Preston Montford, Shrewsbury, UK

Workshop with fieldworkers earlier this year at the Field Studies Council Offices in Preston Montford, Shrewsbury, UK

THE PROJECT AND GOOGLE EXPEDITIONS

The Open University (OU), UK is conducting a research project (funded by Google and the OU) on the potential use of Virtual Reality via Google Expeditions in science and geography school education.

Google Expeditions is a Virtual Reality mobile Application (app) which consists of field trips of places that students experience on a smartphone through a Virtual Reality (VR) viewer called Google cardboard.  The Google Expeditions app (available for Android and iOS platforms) has more than 500 expeditions. An expedition comprises of 360-degree photospheres of a location (e.g. Rio de Janeiro). Google Expeditions enable visualisation of locations which may not be feasible or easy to visit in real life (e.g. Galapagos islands or the Tolbachik volcano). Further, Google Expeditions have simulations to envision concepts and systems such as the human heart, the respiratory system, or the process of pollination.

Fieldwork, which involves leaving the classroom and engaging in teaching and learning through first-hand experience of phenomena out-of-doors, has a long tradition in geography and in certain sciences, notably biology and environmental science. Learning in the ‘real world’ through exploration and enquiry is particularly valuable for introducing students to the complexity and messiness of the real world. However, there are several barriers to physical fieldwork such as time-constraints; it is expensive; requires health and safety assessment; students should have some essential fieldwork skills to make the best use of their time in the field; and the support staff require training for conducting physical field trips (see: Year of fieldwork: why do we need it?).

Virtual field trips, which are designed in 3D virtual reality platforms (e.g. for desktop computers or for mobile phone apps such as Google Expeditions) provide realistic spaces and contexts and have enormous potential for supporting fieldwork before, during, and after a physical field trip. One of the research questions that we have focused on is concerned with this potential:

How can virtual reality-based virtual field trips via Google Expeditions support physical fieldwork?

Virtual field trips and how they support physical fieldwork

There are two kinds of virtual field trips in Google Expeditions:

  • places that may be difficult to experience in real-life such as underwater excursions of the Great Barrier Reef to view the coral bleaching and effects of climate change; and
  • places that one can visit in real-life but it may not always be feasible to do so due to resource, distance, or mobility constraints – for example, London Olympic Park, or visiting tropical rainforests in Borneo, or pyramids in Egypt.

We have identified several characteristics of Google Expeditions that may help to complement physical field trips:

  • The 360-degree photospheres in Google Expeditions and the 3D view that the virtual reality viewer generates create an ‘authentic learning space’ in virtual field trips.
  • Being able to navigate in 360-degrees, that is, moving your head up and down and from side to side and being able to place the viewer on your eyes gives an individualised first-hand viewing experience.
  • The participants in our empirical research have commented on the sense of presence – ‘as if I was there’ and the sense of space – being able to perceive the spatial relationships in a scene of the expedition.

The authentic spaces, and the sense of presence and sense of space that the users experience in virtual reality set an authentic context for learning – enabling the educators to relate virtual field trips in Google Expeditions to real-world experiences of physical field trips. For example,

  • before a physical field trip, Google Expeditions can support students to practice and gain observation skills, or in the formulation of inquiry questions for the physical field trip, or to conduct risk assessment; the support staff can learn and prepare themselves for managing a group of students and for assisting in the fieldwork activities;
  • during physical field trips, Google Expeditions can help sensitise the students to the issues of the location of the physical field trip with other parts of the world – for example, how will the area of their physical field trip change due to footfall by tourists and construction of hotels and holiday resorts – and showing them the ‘Environmental change in Borneo’ expedition (see http://bit.ly/2oiiDCw in the Weekly Teacher Tips of Google Expeditions, 29 November 2016); and
  • virtual field trips provide a space for de-briefing by the educator, for reflection, and for consolidation of knowledge after a physical field trip.

The realism of virtual field trips and the sense of presence and the sense of place that they generate can help augment the physical field trip experience and support the learning gained through physical field trips.

THE PROJECT TEAM

Dr. Matthew Kam, Research Lead, Google Education

Professor Shailey Minocha and Dr Ana-Despina Tudor at The Open University, UK

The project partners in the UK are:

Field Studies Council (Dr Steve Tilling and Mr Dave Morgan);

Association for Science Education (Mr Richard Needham and Ms Marianne Cutler); and

Geographical Association (Ms Becky Kitchen).

Simulations in Google expeditions and their role in Science and Geography lessons

THE PROJECT AND GOOGLE EXPEDITIONS

The Open University (OU), UK is conducting a school-based research project (funded by Google and the OU; July 2016 - June 2017) on the potential use of Virtual Reality via Google Expeditions in secondary school science and geography.

Google Expeditions is a Virtual Reality (VR) approach being promoted by Google in schools globally. Google Expeditions (GEs) are guided tours (field trips) of places that students experience on a smartphone through a VR viewer called Google cardboard.  

GEs comprise of 360 photospheres of places and events - for example, Buckingham Palace, The Great Barrier Reef and the coral bleaching in the Reef due to climate change, Borneo Rain Forest, and the International Space Station. These visualisations enable students and teachers to experience places that may be hard or impossible to visit in real life by everybody. GEs also have simulations - for example, the respiratory or the circulatory system in a human body, the solar system, the activity in volcanoes during eruption, etc. These simulations are virtual representations of otherwise invisible concepts, processes and events.

Simulations in Science and Geography

In our empirical investigations involving using GEs in lessons on upper-primary and secondary schools in England, science and geography students and teachers have shared their experiences of learning with simulations. Teachers can use Expeditions to teach various concepts and processes that might be difficult to explain even with physical models in the lab. Here is a list of some of the GEs that show simulations, from small scale to large scale concepts and events:

1.     Astronomy

2.     Auditory System

3.     Earthquakes

4.     Electromagnetic Spectrum

5.     Extinction

6.     Fertilization

7.     Human Anatomy – Respiratory System

8.     Hydrosphere

9.     Muscular System

10.  Nervous System

11.  Photosynthesis

12.  Pollination

13.  Pregnancy

14.  Solar System

15.  The Eyes

16.  Viruses

17.  Volcanoes

These are some observations from the use of the simulation of the respiratory system that the teachers have used in our school visits.

Perceptions on Simulations

  • Understanding concepts and processes through realistic simulations:
“the animation was very realistic, therefore I could take more knowledge away from the lesson […] these images can […] help me explain about the respiratory system in a much larger amount of detail (Student, Respiratory system Expedition)
“It gave a visual representation of something we could not thoroughly explore […] therefore not only has it expanded my knowledge on the respiratory system […] but it has also given me a memorable image […] for when I do my exams” (Student)
  • Showing connections between the organs of the human body
“it gave me an insight on where exactly processes take place and how the specific cells are adapted” (Student, Respiratory system Expedition)
“[…] instead of trying to create an image in my head, I have everything in front of me […] it helped me compare, by putting a normal lung and a smoker’s lung next to each other” (Student, Respiratory system Expedition)
  • Showing detailed, 3D images of otherwise inaccessible processes
 “The other resources are quite flat […] – so if you take the alveoli, for example, which is a sphere, you can see the capillaries wrapped around […] it’s very difficult to see when it’s on just a flat piece of paper” (Biology teacher, Respiratory system Expedition).
“actually seeing where the [alveoli] and why it is and the capillary network around it, being able to picture it, I think helps them link those things together” (Biology teacher, Respiratory system Expedition)
 “with the digestive system…, because I used this one before with the stomach where you just get a flat thing of the stomach [from an image]. With this one [with the Google Expedition] you can see where the acid is released. You see the different entrances and the exits and you can see the food in there, the juices as well, so it gives a real clear image of what’s happening inside the organs, not just a flat image outside.” (Biology teacher, Respiratory system Expedition).

Simulations help to visualise or enact the otherwise abstract concepts (e.g. formation of the solar system) in a learning environment. They enable students and teachers to experience real-life-like scenarios that are not possible to view in the real world, and help concretise learning and teaching. A number of studies have reported that inquiry learning based on simulations leads to higher levels of acquisition of domain knowledge than more direct forms of instruction such as a presentation by a teacher or using text-based materials.  

Simulations enable self-exploration by students. Simulations allow students and teachers to have experiences of concepts, processes and events, thus typically supporting the experiential learning pedagogical paradigm.

THE PROJECT TEAM

Dr. Matthew Kam, Research Lead, Google Education

Dr Ana-Despina Tudor and Professor Shailey Minocha at The Open University, UK

The project partners are: UK's Field Studies Council (Steve Tilling and Dave Morgan), UK's Association for Science Education (Richard Needham and Marianne Cutler) and Geographical Association (Becky Kitchen).

Role of wearable activity-tracking technologies on the well-being and quality of life of people aged 55 and over

About the project

In our Sir Halley Stewart Trust-funded digital health wearables project (May 2016 - April 2017) and in collaboration with Age UK Milton Keynes, we are investigating whether and how wearable activity-tracking technologies can acceptably contribute towards self-monitoring of activity and health by people aged 55 years and over. Example technologies include those from Fitbit, Jawbone, or smart watches from Apple or Samsung. Typically, these devices record steps walked, sleep patterns, or calories expended.

Empirical research

Our aim has been to determine the potential of these technologies in improving the physical and mental well-being of older people through active lifestyles, and the possible use of data by medical professionals for diagnosis and timely interventions. We have applied a number of data-collection methods such as workshops, surveys and diaries to investigate:

  • experiences of the people aged 55 and over who are already using these technologies;
  • experiences of people aged 55 and over who haven’t used these activity-trackers before and who were given devices in this project – challenges of adoption, whether/how the behaviours of these participants changes; and
  • usability aspects related to the design and use of these devices.

Some preliminary observations from our data

People aged 55 years and over who are already using these activity-trackers (from a month to over an year) and who filled up our survey (n=510) reported that the use of these technologies had ‘made them more conscious of their level of activity’:

  • (79.24%) and 45.55% of the participants said that they were more active since using these devices;
  • 27.75% felt more fit since using these devices and 42.58% reported that they felt better informed about their diet, sleep and activity-levels; and
  • 31.83% of the participants stated that they shared the data with family, friends, activity groups (e.g. walking groups), medical/healthcare professionals and even insurance companies.

We gave activity-trackers to 21 participants in the 55 - 82 age-range. Through monthly workshops, diaries, and one-to-one interviews, we investigated the changes in behaviours of our participants.

Our investigations show:

  • an increase in activity levels in all the participants;
  • increased awareness of food intake; and
  • sharing of data with the GPs to diagnose some specific conditions related to the data from these devices – e.g. the non-optimal sleep patterns (one of them now has a sleep-treatment plan in place). 

The workshop-discussions since June 2016 have uncovered a number of challenges people over 55 years experience with using the activity-trackers - from opening the packaging, accessing the instructions/manuals online, knowing about and using the features of the device, making sense of the data and knowing what is optimal for them (10,000 steps/day might not be a target for somebody recovering from a knee surgery, for example).

Conclusions

Given the UK’s ageing profile and as part of the agendas of Active and Healthy Ageing and digital NHS, there is an increasing focus on maintaining health in later life and encouraging physical activity to preserve mobility and motor skills, and self-monitoring of health and medical conditions. The wider implications of our project are in determining how digital health wearables can be used for self-monitoring and self-management of health by older people; for remote-monitoring of specific conditions such as Parkinson's by carers and doctors, challenges for adoption of such devices; and the ethical/privacy dilemmas of sharing and usage of data.

Authors

  • Professor Shailey Minocha, Dr Duncan Banks, Dr Caroline Holland and Catherine McNulty, The Open University, UK
  • Jane Palmer, Age UK Milton Keynes

This project (May 2016 - April 2017) has been funded by the Sir Halley Stewart Trust. The views expressed in this blog-post are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Trust.

Google Expeditions: Comparing the "explorer" experiences on Tablets and Virtual Reality viewers

iPads set-up for students ("explorers") and educator ("guide") ahead of a lesson using Google Expeditions (Photo courtesy: Dr. Ana-Despina Tudor) 

THE PROJECT AND GOOGLE EXPEDITIONS

The Open University (OU), UK is conducting a school-based research project (funded by Google and the OU; July 2016 - June 2017) on the potential use of Virtual Reality via Google Expeditions in secondary school science and geography.

Google Expeditions is a Virtual Reality (VR) approach being promoted by Google in schools globally. Google Expeditions are guided tours (field trips) of places that students experience on a smartphone through a VR viewer called Google cardboard.  

GOOGLE EXPEDITIONS KIT

When we have been visiting schools as a part of our research project, we have noted that the main obstacle for adopting Google Expeditions in schools is the cost of the equipment, and especially the constraint of not having 1:1 smartphones for their students.

In January 2017, we worked with a school which has 1:1 iPads for its students from Year 4 onwards, to investigate student and educator experiences of Google Expeditions on iPads, and how the experiences compare with using smartphone driven VR through VR viewers.

HOW iPads FARED IN COMPARISON WITH SMARTPHONE-DRIVEN VIRTUAL REALITY?

These are some of our reflections:

  • Students normally use the iPads on stands. They found that iPads (with their protective covers) were heavy to move around to view the Expeditions. “I liked the virtual reality [VR-viewer] because it was lighter to hold and it’s smaller.”
  • Some of the students reverted back to keeping the iPad on the stand and using the fingers to swipe through the screen – a mode of interaction that they are used to. For these students who reverted to a stationary iPad, the 360-degree experience was different and less engaging due to moving restrictions. Another student remarked: “I prefer the virtual reality [VR-Viewer] because it wasn’t hard to use. The iPads [the scene] wouldn’t move when you moved it, but the virtual reality [VR viewer] did.” 
  • The educator felt the students were more distracted in the iPad lesson as compared to the VR-viewer lesson. Once the VR-viewers are close to the student’s eyes, they have an individual focused experience and are not so much affected by others in the room and events around them.  The educator said:“it [VR-viewer-lesson] was much more self-directed. There was a lot less low-level disruption. They were looking and taking to their partners, but it was on task as compared to just spinning randomly…”
  • The sense of presence – or the sense of being there was perceived to be more in the VR-viewer lessons by the students: “because it looks more realistic and you can hold it to your face... and so it feels like you are there…but you can’t with the iPad.”
  • Moreover, students could zoom in and out on the iPad – an interaction which also comes naturally to Tablet users.
  • If the students were pointing to a particular aspect of the Expedition for clarification by the teacher, the educator found it easier to address that in the iPad classes as she could walk over to the student and look at their iPad screen.
  • The educator suggested that having both iPads and VR-viewers in the lesson could be helpful: VR-viewers facilitate self-exploration and immersive ‘individual’ experience of the expeditions. iPads could be used for group-work, discussion in pairs, for accessing other Apps, and for discussions that involve the entire class - when the teacher uses the iPad to display the expedition using the classroom projector. Students also pointed out that that both technologies can be helpful: “Both of them helped me learn because [on] the iPad I saw it in detail and the VR [virtual reality] was getting the experience better.”
  • Some students preferred the larger screen of an iPad: “it [iPad] gave the picture larger. You didn’t have to put the iPad on your face. It gave me the full look around and gave the chance to move [within the scene] with nothing on me. Sometimes my eyes got fuzzy with virtual reality [VR viewer] compared to the iPad. You could see the bit she [the educator] was talking about clearer and nice and big [on the iPad].”

The educator, after having reflected on the activities that the students carried out in the lessons, concluded: “They do both [iPads and smartphone-driven VR viewers] help learning, but you do get a bit more from the VR experience. However, as a compromise, if you haven’t got the VR [equipment], you could do it with iPads.”

With over 400 expeditions, the Google expeditions App provides a very rich resource for teaching and learning, and for virtual field trips. The educator added: “if you have a small group [of students], have a few iPads out… they can explore something [in the expeditions] even just to enhance their awareness of this technology…start planting the seeds of how will that [VR] work.”

The Project team

Dr. Matthew Kam, Research Lead, Google Education

Professor Shailey Minocha and Dr Ana-Despina Tudor at The Open University, UK

The project partners are: UK's Field Studies Council (Steve Tilling and Dave Morgan), UK's Association for Science Education (Richard Needham and Marianne Cutler) and Geographical Association (Becky Kitchen).

Reflections related to planning and conducting lessons with Google Expeditions

A class set up for a Computing lesson using Google Expeditions 

A class set up for a Computing lesson using Google Expeditions 

The project and Google expeditions

The Open University (OU), UK is conducting a school-based research project (funded by Google and the OU; July 2016 - June 2017) on the potential use of Virtual Reality via Google Expeditions in secondary school science and geography.

Google Expeditions is a Virtual Reality (VR) approach being promoted by Google in schools globally. Google Expeditions are guided tours (field trips) of places that students experience on a smartphone through a virtual reality viewer called Google cardboard.

In this blog-post, Professor Shailey Minocha and Dr Ana-Despina Tudor of The Open University share their reflections from observing Geography, Science and Computing lessons using Google Expeditions in UK's primary and secondary schools over the last few months.

Reflections

Choosing Expeditions:

Choose one to two expeditions that link together with the theme of the lesson. If it is an hour’s lesson, if there are more than two expeditions, students may make it difficult to reflect on what they see and also to complete other planned activities of the lesson.

Pre-plan the narrative that links the sequence of scenes within a expedition and across expeditions. 

The Expeditions can serve various roles. Some of these are:

  • an introduction to a new topic which will be covered in a series of lessons, say, respiratory system for biology students. 
  • exploring a particular theme – for example, climate change.  
  • for recap – consolidating the information given in several lessons, e.g. volcanoes and effects on people and the environment.
  • preparing students ahead of a physical field trip, e.g. spatial awareness of the London Olympic Park area and the associated changes in that part of London (social, economic and environmental impact) through a virtual field trip via the Expedition.
  • for imparting fieldwork skills - for example, in science, history and geography; e.g. observation skills, identification of species of plants and animals, risk assessment, etc.
  • during a physical field trip – to sensitise students about the issue under investigation – e.g. show the expedition environmental change in Borneo rain forests to sensitise the students about the effects of deforestation, etc. 

Lesson preparation:

Choose accompanying resources such as videos, photos only if they add value to the lesson and are indispensable for the learning intentions of that lesson. Too many resources of different kinds and which don't have an obvious or explicit connection may impair student concentration and learning. 

Equipment preparation:

In the first few lessons of using the expeditions, place the phones (with the App ‘Follow’ing the Guide on the teacher's Tablet) in the Virtual Reality (VR) viewers ahead of the lesson. However, as students get used to the technology and depending upon their ages, they will be able to start the App themselves and insert the phones in the VR viewers.  

During the lesson:

On the board/display: Display the learning intention(s) throughout the class to help students to focus on the objectives of the lesson and the expected outcomes. 

Showing the expedition(s): 

This sequence of steps might be helpful:

  • After a brief introduction, give students an opportunity for initial self-exploration: to look around and see for themselves without a commentary from you (the teacher). This will enable the students to get acquainted with the expedition, develop spatial awareness, and even identify some of the features that interest them.
  • Once they’ve finished the initial exploration, you could start guiding them through the scenes of the expedition: give a brief introduction and point them to the area(s) of interest. Some students may find it hard to look and listen at the same time, so you may alternate between commenting the scene(s) and letting the students explore without verbal prompting.
  • Give them time to continue looking around; then pause the expedition. This will prompt students to place their viewers on the desk and encourage them to start discussing with each other and explain about what they have seen – and/or ask students to highlight the observations that they have made thus far.
  • Continue with an introduction of what they are about to see next – and then start again. Giving them pauses will help them to assimilate what they have learned and also give their eyes a rest.
  • Towards the end of the slot of showing them the expeditions, alert the students that they have the last few minutes to look around and gather any final data and observations.
  • You may also like to connect your Tablet (with the Expedition running) to the projector to highlight any areas of interest for discussion. This will enable all the students to look at the same aspect being discussed. 

Depending on the lesson topic and on the intended learning outcomes, the teacher can either read out the information that is provided with the expedition in the 'Guide’ mode of the App or adapt it with their own content to suit their class. A teacher-created personalised narrative for their students may contribute to student engagement better than the teacher's reading out from the Expedition's content.

Activities alongside expedition(s): 

You might like to ask students to list their observations (situated in the learning intentions of the lesson) around a mind-map. This could be an effective way to capture individual observations from seeing the expedition(s). Students could discuss their individual observations in pairs/groups. 

In addition, and depending upon the level of the students, you could ask students to generate questions for further enquiry based on the mind-maps that they may have developed, e.g., 'What questions come to your mind about what you have seen?'

Alternatively, you may skip the mind-mapping exercise and only concentrate on the process of generating questions.

Through discussion and by the end of the class, you may short-list 3-5 questions for further inquiry in the classroom, laboratory, or in a physical field trip, for evidence collection, and for further discussion and reflection.

Resources for further exploration

Google Expeditions, https://www.google.co.uk/edu/expeditions/ 

Google Expeditions Pioneer Programme, https://edu.google.com/intl/en_uk/pioneer-program/ 

or https://www.google.co.uk/edu/pioneer-program

Google Expeditions Gallery, https://www.google.co.uk/intl/en_uk/edu/expeditions/gallery/#header  

Expeditions Teacher Tips, https://goo.gl/sWtqWC

List of Expeditions and links to lesson plans that are available, https://goo.gl/eJT3I9 or http://bit.ly/1GxJ9xf 

Lesson plans on Google Expeditions in TES, https://www.tes.com/resources/search/?&q=%23GoogleExpeditions

Google+ Community, Google Expeditions, https://plus.google.com/communities/106649979901042240651

About the project team

Dr. Matthew Kam, Research Lead, Google Education

Professor Shailey Minocha and Dr Ana-Despina Tudor, The Open University, UK

The project partners are: UK's Field Studies Council (Steve Tilling and Dave Morgan), UK's Association for Science Education (Richard Needham and Marianne Cutler) and Geographical Association (Becky Kitchen).

3D Virtual field trips and their relationship with physical field trips

At The Open University (OU), UK, we have a long tradition of virtual field trips to support our students at a distance. These virtual field trips have been made available on CD-ROMs, DVDs, on websites (e.g. Sorting out Soils in OU's Open Science Lab) and now in 3D avatar-based virtual environments (e.g. Virtual Skiddaw - the 3D virtual geology field trip in OU's Open Science Lab - OSL). Virtual field trips enable our students to familiarise themselves with the area and develop/practise fieldwork skills.

Virtual field trips (VFTs) can be perceived as replacements to physical field trips and even considered as a threat/obstacle for physical fieldwork (a survey of UK school teachers by Geographical Association). However, disciplines such as geology, biology, environmental science/studies and geography are founded on field observations, exploration, and enquiry. The skills for such disciplines are best learned and practised in the field - to discover and to be curious. In fact, fieldwork by its very definition involves leaving the classroom and engaging in activities through first-hand experience of the phenomena out-of-doors. 

We perceive VFTs being used to support, enhance and extend physical fieldwork so that students can make the most of their time out in the field. VFTs can help in preparation ahead of a physical field trip, and as revision aids after a physical field trip. 

Virtual Skiddaw is a browser-based 3D Geology VFT App within OSL. It was developed with a 3D game engine (Unity 3D). Virtual Skiddaw presents geological fieldwork in a 3D immersive digital landscape created using real world data from part of the northern Lake District in the UK. Unlike other 3D virtual field trips that are normally based around fictional landscapes, the Virtual Skiddaw App has been developed using real data - digital photogrammetry, LiDAR data and maps from UK's Ordnance Survey. 

The multi-user avatar-based environment of Virtual Skiddaw facilitates interaction with other students and educators and facilitates synchronous communication, peer-to-peer learning and collaborative learning. There are six sites of Skiddaw in this VFT - each site has 5-6 activities. The 3D virtual environment (VE) facilitates learning activities that lead to improved transfer of knowledge and skills to real-life situations through contextualisation of learning. If students are unable to visit all the six sites due to time or weather constraints, then this VFT provides a space for practice and revision of fieldwork activities.

The sense of presence afforded by the 3D VE and the sense of self due to the avatars contribute towards an immersive experience for students and educators.

The evaluation of the Virtual Skiddaw initiative is being supported by OU's eSTEeM - The OU Centre for STEM pedagogy.  

Publications and reports by the project team are available in OU's Research Repository (ORO).

Role of wearable activity-tracking technologies on the well-being and quality of life of people aged 55 and over

About the project

Our research project at UK’s Open University and in collaboration with Age UK Milton Keynes aims to investigate whether there are changes in behaviour in people aged over 55 years through the use of wearable activity-tracking technologies. Example technologies include those from Fitbit, Jawbone, or smart watches from Apple or Samsung. Typically, these devices record steps walked, sleep patterns, or calories expended.  

The benefits of regular physical activity for older adults and those with chronic disease and/or mobility limitations are indisputable. Regular physical activity attenuates many of the health risks associated with obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression and anxiety, and cognitive decline. As physical activity levels among older adults (both with and without chronic disease) are low, facilitating an increase in activity levels is an important public health issue. Walking has been identified as an ideal means of low-impact, low-risk physical activity that can boost physical and mental wellbeing. Our previous research has shown that walking with others can help reduce social isolation and loneliness among people aged 55 and over.

Research strand related to participants trying out activity trackers

In our year-long project (May 2016 – April 2017), in collaboration with Age UK Milton Keynes and funded by the Sir Halley Stewart Trust, we have given activity-trackers to 21 participants in the age range from 55 – 82. Through monthly workshops, diaries that the participants are maintaining and sharing with us on a weekly basis, and through one-to-one interviews with them, we are investigating how the behaviours of our participants is changing – whether there is an increase in their activity such as walking or gardening, lifestyle changes, attitudes towards food/diet, and so on.

Our preliminary data analysis shows: increase in activity levels in all the participants; increased awareness of food intake; and sharing of data with the GPs to diagnose the non-optimal sleep patterns (one of them now has a treatment plan in place for poor sleep). A couple of participants have joined the gym when they realised that their desk-based work-life doesn’t give them the opportunity to stay active during the week. One of the participants who as high-sensitivity to ultraviolet rays is able to plan her outings by viewing the snapshot of the current UV level and by setting an exposure reminder to help protect herself. An 80+ participant is able to plan her days based on the activity levels that her device provides – having some rest-days in between hectic days so as not to over-tire herself.

A couple of quotes from our participants:

“I have been thinking about how the Fitbit has changed my daily routine and there is no doubt that it has changed my view of exercise. I am feeling better and the additional exercise continues to help with the osteoarthritis in my knees.  I have set my daily target as 5000 steps and I am now achieving this on most days, I feel I have failed if I don’t.” 
“I am still checking the number of steps but I don’t feel as disappointed if I haven’t reached my target.  There is no doubt that it has made me more aware of the need for exercise and I now park at the far side of the car park and walk to the shop – not much but its progress.”

Latest news about our project

We have launched a survey that is aimed at medical professionals to explore whether they use the data from these devices for diagnosis and intervention. Most importantly, do medical professionals use data from these devices to determine the behaviour or lifestyle changes in people aged over 55 years?  If you are a doctor or healthcare professional, please visit https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/role-in-medical-consultations or http://bit.ly/2cPr852 to participate in this survey. It will take 3-5 minutes to complete this survey.

The role of Virtual Reality-based virtual field trips in supporting physical fieldwork

The authors of this blog-post are Professor Shailey Minocha and Dr Ana-Despina Tudor of The Open University, UK and Dr Steve Tilling, Field Studies Council, UK.

Audience in the Science Circle island of Second Life (picture courtesy: Chantal Snoek, Founder, Science Circle)

Audience in the Science Circle island of Second Life (picture courtesy: Chantal Snoek, Founder, Science Circle)

Taking the example of Virtual Reality-based Google Expeditions, in a presentation in the 3D virtual world, Second Life on 3 September 2016, we (Dr Ana-Despina Tudor and Professor Shailey Minocha, The Open University, UK and Dr. Steve Tilling, Field Studies Council) discussed how virtual field trips can prepare students for physical fieldwork and enhance the fieldwork experience during and after a physical field trip. Our project's details are summarised in a previous blog-post

In this Second Life talk, we presented the results from our preliminary investigations with Geography and Science educators, fieldworkers and curriculum leaders. The presentation slides are available here.

These are some of the themes that came up in the discussion:

  • significance of outdoor fieldwork in Geography and Science (the two subjects of study in our project); 
  • constraints on how physical field trips may not always be feasible because of some of these challenges: cost constraints, safety concerns, time limitations (in the school timetables);
  • cost of the VR technology - smartphones, tablets, virtual reality (VR) viewers and availability of network for smartphone and mobile-app based VR such as in the case of Google Expeditions; concerns about the affordability for schools and parents; 

Discussion quotes: 

"biggest challenges would be money, not allowing smartphones in schools (we have 1:1 laptops instead) and admin buy-in"

"If schools in the UK can find a way of providing tablets that can be used in class that would be great so we can avoid the issue of affordability of some families."

  • need of guidance or resources or lesson-plans for teachers for using such technologies in the classrooms;
  • teachers would like to create their own content but is it really feasible given the time-constraints?
  • concern about teachers having to keep pace with the ever-changing VR-landscape;
  • need for sufficient evidence on the role of VR in education and in schools for adoption.

Dr Steve Tilling, UK's Field Studies Council, said: "I'd just say that I think VR will follow a similar path to Google Earth. Slow at first, but accelerated rapidly as teachers developed their own resources. Now, 10 years later, many geographers, and some scientists, would struggle to survive without it."

Our thanks to Chantal Snoek, Founder of Science Circle, for hosting our presentation in the Science Circle island in Second Life.

We will keep you posted on our future events and research results. 

Investigating the role of virtual reality in Science and Geography in schools via Google Expeditions

Teachers of Science and Geography trying out Google Expeditions at a local school in Milton Keynes, UK. [Dr Ana-Despina Tudor of UK's Open University (standing) was leading the session.]

Teachers of Science and Geography trying out Google Expeditions at a local school in Milton Keynes, UK.

[Dr Ana-Despina Tudor of UK's Open University (standing) was leading the session.]

The authors of this blog post are: Professor Shailey Minocha and Dr Ana-Despina Tudor of The Open University, UK and Dr Steve Tilling, UK's Field Studies Council.

The year 2016 is when Virtual Reality has finally become a mainstream product, with major investment by some of the leading developers in the IT and smartphone sector (e.g. HTC, Samsung, Sony). Whilst the Virtual Reality (VR) devices being launched this year are usually associated with gaming and entertainment, their potential in education is also being explored. 

Google Expeditions (GEs) is one of the VR approaches being promoted by Google in schools globally. GEs are guided tours (field trips) of places that students experience on a smartphone through a virtual reality viewer called Google cardboard (see video). Also, see another video.

A GE comprises of 360 degrees scenes or panoramas of a location (e.g. a museum, or a city like Rio de Janeiro) along with the description of that location, points of interest and some suggested questions for inquiry and discussion. GEs also enable visualisation of locations which may not be feasible or easy to visit in real life (e.g. volcanoes, or an underwater visit to Great Barrier Reef, or Galapagos islands). Further, GE-like VR-based simulations can help to envision concepts and systems such as the human heart, circulatory system, or a plant cell. Using a Tablet and via the GEs App (available from Google Play Store), a teacher can guide students to look at places and concepts. Students experience the GE/VR through the smartphones embedded within the VR viewers.

The Open University (OU), UK are conducting a school-based research project (funded by Google and the OU) on the potential use of VR via GEs in secondary school science and geography classes. The project is being co-led by Field Studies Council, and UK's Association for Science Education and Geographical Association are the two partnering organisations. The project will run until July 2017 (project website). 

The focus of this project is to understand:

  • how VR-based field trips can prepare students for physical fieldwork in Science and Geography classes;
  • how effectiveVR-based simulations are at representing scientific or geographic concepts (e.g. showing students a human heart, taking them to an underwater excursion);
  • whether VR-based field trips facilitate spatial literacy; and
  • whether VR-based field trips support self-directed inquiry-based learning.

Involvement of schools in the UK in the Autumn term 2016

These are the following ways in which we are inviting schools and teachers (KS3, KS4 and A-levels) to participate in our research.

  • in-class sessions with students and teachers where teachers can try out GEs during a Science or Geography lesson (the OU researchers will help teachers plan the lesson ahead of the session(s)).
  • meeting with a group of Science and Geography teachers during lunch-hour or at the end of the school-day; this will involve a demo and hands-on and discussion on virtual reality field trips and their role in Science and Geography Curricula.
  • involving teachers to review GE-based virtual field trips with the view of reflecting on the role of VR-based field trips in teaching and learning Science and Geography.

To express your interest in taking part in this project, please complete this online form: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/Virtual-Reality-Google-Expeditions or http://bit.ly/29ShR6k. Alternatively, please contact Dr Ana-Despina Tudor or Professor Shailey Minocha at the OU (ana.tudor@open.ac.uk; shailey.minocha@open.ac.uk)

The research will be carried out with approval from OU’s Human Research Ethics Committee. The findings of the project will be shared with teachers and their schools. Ways of recognising participating schools and teachers are currently being investigated.

Teachers, policy makers and fieldworkers at a Google Expeditions workshop at UK’s Open University in Milton Keynes

Teachers, policy makers and fieldworkers at a Google Expeditions workshop at UK’s Open University in Milton Keynes

Virtual-reality based field trips and climate change

In our Google-funded Google Expeditions project, we are investigating the role of virtual reality (VR)-based field trips in complementing physical field trips - for preparation ahead of a physical field trip, for spatial literacy and awareness during a physical field trip, and for revision/reflection and even for completion of activities (if some of them couldn't be completed due to weather, etc.) after a physical field trip.

Most importantly, we are investigating the role of VR-based field trips in simulating learning scenarios that the students may not be able to experience in real life or may not be able to travel due to constraints of resources.

Towards this objective, we are interacting with UK school teachers for eliciting their critique on existing Google Expeditions and also for generating ideas for 'new' Google Expeditions and for the theme 'Climate change'.

This article Can virtual reality emerge as a tool for conservation? discusses the role of virtual reality in raising awareness of conservation issues such as those related to climate change - it reinforces our research objectives - how VR-based field trips can aid student engagement and student attainment. 

Through this blog, we will keep you updated as we carry out our research in UK schools. We are primarily focussing on subjects that have a fieldwork component - Geography and Science (e.g. Biology) but we are aware that for a theme like Climate Change, we may have to interact with teachers from other disciplines such as economics and history. 

 

Can animals help combat loneliness and dementia?

Can animals help combat loneliness and dementia?

People with dementia "spend a lot of time feeling challenged, and a warm physical presence can cut through that."Could these animals could change how we think about care for all the elderly?

Posted by Channel 4 News on Friday, March 25, 2016

On Channel 4 News tonight (and in this video), they discussed about therapeutic animal handling sessions that are held by Furry Tales in local care homes in the fight against social isolation and loneliness in  older people. 

Another similar venture is Pets as Therapy which is a national charity, that provides therapeutic visits to hospitals, hospices, nursing and care homes, special needs schools and a variety of other venues by volunteers with their own friendly, temperament tested and vaccinated dogs and cats.

In our report for Milton Keynes Council on social isolation and loneliness in people aged 55 and over in Milton Keynes, we have discussed the significance of pets for older people and how independently living older people who have pets tend to have better physical health and mental wellbeing than those that do not (pages 18-19 of the report).  

Also, see this article in the Guardian, 7 October 2014 that discusses how doctors are referring patients to a community pet handling project to reduce social isolation.