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 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, 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.


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

Dr. Matthew Kam, 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).