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