Geographical Enquiry

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

Photos: Students looking at Google Expeditions during the field trip to a local nature reserve

Authors of this blog-post

Mrs Melanie Collins, Pipers Corner School, High Wycombe, UK, Dr Ana-Despina Tudor, The Open University, UK and Professor Shailey Minocha, The Open University, UK

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 mobile virtual reality via Google Expeditions in science and geography in school education.

Google Expeditions is a mobile virtual reality (VR) which is 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

An expedition in the Google Expeditions (GEs) app comprises of 360-degree photospheres of places and events - for example, Buckingham Palace; The Great Barrier Reef and the coral bleaching in the Reef due to climate change; the Borneo Rainforest 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 GEs app - for example, the respiratory or the circulatory system in a human body, the solar system, the activity in volcanoes during eruption, or the process of pollination. These simulations are virtual representations of otherwise invisible concepts, processes and events.

The GEs app (available for Android and iOS platforms) has over 700 expeditions.

Using a tablet and via the GEs app, the educator guides the students to look at the scenes of an expedition. The students use the app in the ‘follower’ mode and experience the GE/VR through the smart-phone embedded within a VR viewer.

In the Figure below, (a) shows a tablet and a Google Cardboard VR viewer with the phone slotted in; in (b) the tablet is in ‘guide’ (or educator) mode and the phone is in ‘follower’ (or student) mode. On the tablet, the educator selects a point of interest (the circle). The setup requires a local wireless connection which can be provided by a router.

Figure: (a) Tablet and Google Cardboard viewer with the phone slotted in; (b) The tablet is in ‘guide (educator) mode and the phone is in ‘follower’ (or student) mode.

Connecting international context to the local context

In this case study, we describe how a virtual field trip in the GEs app was used during outdoor geography fieldwork to help students draw comparisons between the local area they were visiting and locations in the rainforest in Borneo. The simplicity of the equipment associated with the mobile or smart-phone-driven VR of GEs

(as compared with VR headsets tethered to high-spec machines) enabled us to use VR in the field. We were able to power the router (for creating the wireless network between the Tablet and phones) with a battery. The equipment was set up on a picnic table in the nature reserve.

Use of Google Expeditions during a physical field trip 

Sixty-eight Year 7 students explored the GE of ‘Environmental Change in Borneo’ during their field trip to a local nature reserve in the Chilterns area of South East England.

The aim of this virtual field trip was to help students understand the impact of deforestation, land clearance and development of buildings on nature, and to sensitise them to the potential magnitude of impact on their local nature reserve that may be caused by the development of a High-Speed (HS2) railway nearby.

Together with the educators, the researchers showed them the following scenes from the ‘Environmental Change in Borneo’ Expedition:

  • “Pristine Rainforest” – describing the plant and animal diversity in Borneo
  • “Land Clearance and Deforestation” – showing how the forest is cleared and how former forest areas turn into fields
  • “Land Encroachment” – showing how land is being cut through to create space for new real estate development
  • “Sandakan Development” – showing modern touristic coastal developments at the beach

Geographical inquiry before and during the field trip

In order to set the context for the VR activity in the field, before the field trip and in the classroom, students were asked to write down questions that they would like to ask with regard to the impact of large-scale developments on the local nature reserve. These are some exemplars:

“If they build the HS2 will animals/wildlife still live there?” (environmental impact)
“Will they get the people that live there to move?” (social impact)
 “Would everyone stop visiting [the Chilterns]?” (social and economic impact)

The questions generated at this stage appear to be general questions about the possible impact.

During the field trip and after a 10-minutes tour of the GE, students were required to fill out two written activities:

I. Write down how the virtual field trip made them feel differently about the large- scale development planned near the local nature reserve.

The tour of the Borneo rainforest in VR enabled students to compare and contrast the local area with the areas explored in virtual reality. These are some examples of student quotes:

“It really opened my eyes to what the beautiful Chilterns might be transformed into […] and how bad it would be for the environment”.
“It made me think that so much can change in so little time.”

II. Write down the questions they would like to ask about how places like the nature reserve are changing/might change in the future.

These are some examples of students’ questions:

 “What will happen to animals?”
 “Is the chalk [of the Chilterns] ever going to show under the grass”
“How big of an impact would the HS2 have?”
“How much of the world is affected by this?”

Compared to the questions the students asked before the field trip, the questions generated in the field after having seen the Expeditions appear to be more focused on the natural reserve area. Also, they appear to relate the content of the Expedition such as biodiversity loss or land encroachment (at international level) with similar threats to the local natural reserve (at local level) and even other places around the world.

Post-field trip Reflections 

After the field trip students had a debriefing session for 30 minutes in the school where they reflected on the field trip virtual reality activity. They were asked to comment on how virtual reality helped them to understand about the potential impact of large-scale developments on the Chilterns.

Students were able to connect their understanding and relate the changes in Borneo rain forests to their local nature reserve and to map the broader context of infrastructural development and its impact on nature:

“It is very helpful to see what we are trying to understand, because it’s quite hard to comprehend what would happen to the Chilterns if HS2 were to happen and seeing the jungle [in Borneo] and what happened to it was unbelievable and should never have happened.” [student]

Google Expeditions support Geography fieldwork education

The affordances of GEs such as 360-degree visual authenticity, 360-degree navigation, 3D view, and single-user handling enabled students to familiarise themselves with the 360-degree space and see beyond what a flat view in a video or a book or a photograph may provide. This perception of space contributes to their spatial understanding and sense of scale of the context that they are visualising in an expedition – and, in this case, the scale of the environmental change caused by human interventions.

Students explained this experience of scale and understanding the extent of change via the GE:

“It showed me all different things and how things like HS2 can really impact. You could see it on a large-scale, so you got to see things on an overall scale” [student]
 “It was useful. It made you understand how habitats can change from human technology and wants. It gave you a before and after picture and it was scary how it can change” [student]

In post-field trip group-interview of educators who had accompanied the students to the field trip, an educator elaborated on the visual impact that the virtual reality had on students’ understanding of environmental change and how it helped to contextualize the knowledge from an international context (Borneo) to the local one (The Chilterns):

“I think they saw the whole Borneo thing in a kind of context of what we were looking at there [in the field], which is I think was the purpose [of this activity].” [Geography educator, leader of the field trip team].

Conclusions

This case study demonstrates that Google Expeditions can help in extending students’ knowledge and understanding by drawing comparisons between various locations – in this case the environmental change at international setting seen in virtual reality and local areas that might be affected by large scale development plans.

Other scenarios could make use of Google Expeditions to explore the same place as the visited one in the field, but at different times of day, seasons or even historical times.

Through preliminary analyses of students’ inquiry before and during fieldwork and their reflections after the field trip, we are finding that mobile VR as in GEs helps to:

  • bridge virtual fieldwork with physical field trips;
  • facilitates inquiry-based fieldwork, and experiential and contextual learning; and
  • improves the value of geography fieldwork education.

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, 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, 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).