Connecting the learning from a local context to an international context via Google Expeditions


Authors of this case study

Tracy Tyrell, Irchester Primary School and Ana Tudor and Shailey Minocha, The Open University, UK

Case study

This case study demonstrates how Google Expeditions can help in extending students’ knowledge and understanding from a classroom setting of seeing and feeling rock samples, to experiencing them in a local cemetery in a physical field trip, and to the use of rocks in well-known international locations.


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 mobile application 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.  

Google Expeditions comprise of 700 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 educators to experience places that may be hard or even impossible to visit in real life. There are simulations too in the Google expeditions app - 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.

Connecting local context to an international context

The Science educator of Grade 4 students of a primary school used Google Expeditions to link virtual field trips with physical fieldwork.

The learning outcomes of a set of lessons were focussed on understanding different types of rocks and their usage. The educator structured this topic in the following lessons:

  1. Introducing the different types of rocks in the classroom through a sample of rocks kept in a rock-box in the school. The rocks were sketched and initial observations made as to appearance, texture, etc.
    • Investigating how rocks are formed by looking at the rock cycle and then creating sedimentary, metamorphic and igneous rocks from Starbursts. Observable features of the different rock types were then related back to the rocks children had observed – which type of rock did they think they had and why?
    • Testing the rocks for hardness and permeability using a scratch test and water. The testable features of the different rock types were then also related back to the rocks children had observed – which type of rock did they think they had and why?
  2. After introducing the rocks in the classroom, the educator organised a field trip to the local cemetery where the students could see and discuss the different types of rocks.
  3. In the third lesson and continuing with the theme of rocks, the educator took them to several locations around the world with two Expeditions (“7 new wonders of the World” and “Egypt”):
    • City of Petra in Jordan
    • Taj Mahal
    • Machu Picchu
    • Pyramids in Giza in Egypt

Through the rock-box in the school and in the physical field trip, the educator focussed on the experiential aspects of the topic and the physical trip. She wanted the students to see the different kinds of rocks, feel them with their hands, and analyse their varying characteristics such as hardness, lustre and crystal structure.

The discussion in the local cemetery focused on looking at rocks, how they are used locally, and how they had weathered. The educator reflected in her post-physical field trip conversations with us (the research team):

“we were talking about which was the most common [rock], why do you think there are a couple of [rocks] that [are] completely different there and why? Why do some [rocks] look as if they’ve aged better and lots of questions about what they could see or what they could feel.”

This is how the educator introduced Google Expeditions in the lesson that we observed:

“We did go on a little tour of the graveyard to look at how rocks are being used in the churchyard and in the church, so this [Google Expeditions] is going to be taking you to places where I can’t actually take you because it’s too far and it’s too expensive”.

In each of the expeditions and their scenes, the educator gave students a brief background of the location, the history, the types of rocks and their characteristics, and the structures and buildings made from those rocks. She prompted them to see the connections between the local site that they had visited in the previous lesson and the international locations they were now seeing in virtual reality:

“This is the main tomb where the emperor and his wife are buried, and what do you think that rock is covering the whole mausoleum? Thinking about yesterday and the gravestones we looked at, which rock do you think covers the Taj Mahal?”

High-order questions in students' questioning

The eduactor noticed that her students expanded their thinking towards rock usage and asked high-order questions in their written activity sheets in the lesson such as:

“How did the Egyptian people get the rocks to make the Great Pyramid?” or “How [do] the rocks stick together?”

In their post-lesson reflections, students wrote that Google Expeditions helped them to see that in other countries rocks can be used for tombs”. Also, it helped them to understand that rocks are important all over the world:

“It made me understand how much the world needs rocks. It also helped me understand how much progress we’ve made.”


This case study shows how Google Expeditions or virtual reality-based field trips can be used as an extension of a local field trip to locations that may be difficult to visit. In this particular lesson, Google Expeditions enabled comparisons and contrasts between local and the international contexts; how different kinds of rocks are found and used in different parts of the world; and the significance of rocks in history. 

Google Expeditions and virtual field trips to Jordan, Taj Mahal, Machu Picchu and Egypt helped to extend the understanding of rocks from a classroom to a physical field trip locally, and to an international context.

The educator has explained the case study in her own words here: Google Expeditions - Irchester Primary School.

Project team

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).