VR viewer

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.

Virtual Reality for Employability Skills

Photo from the workshop of the Employability and Scholarship Network of The Open University, UK. Participants are looking at Google Expeditions via the virtual reality viewers.

Photo from the workshop of the Employability and Scholarship Network of The Open University, UK. Participants are looking at Google Expeditions via the virtual reality viewers.

Blog-authors

Professor Shailey Minocha and Dr Ana-Despina Tudor

About the event

On 20th July 2017, we (Dr Ana-Despina Tudor and Professor Shailey Minocha) presented at the workshop titled Employability in a distance learning context: using virtual reality of the Employability Scholarship Network of The Open University (OU), UK. Presentation-file (pdf)

Virtual Reality for Employability Skills

Virtual reality is becoming pervasive in almost all domains starting from arts, environmental causes to medical education and disaster management training, and to supporting patients with Dementia. Thus, an awareness of the virtual reality technology and its integration in curriculum design will provide and enhance employability skills for current and future workplaces.

Virtual Reality Technologies

At this event, our aim was to introduce the audience to a variety of virtual reality technologies. These technologies range from 3D virtual worlds (e.g. Second Life), to 3D virtual environments developed in gaming environments such as in Unity 3D, 360-degree videos in the Chrome browsers, and to 360-degree photospheres in Google Expeditions (Figure 1). We have described these virtual reality technologies in our blog-post: Virtual Reality in Education 

Figure 1:  Virtual Reality Technologies with increasing mobility of the usage of the technology

Figure 1: Virtual Reality Technologies with increasing mobility of the usage of the technology

Google Expeditions - mobile virtual reality

In the presentation, we next took the example of Google Expeditions App to discuss how the affordances of this App which we have empirically-derived in our an year-long project on Google Expeditions support pedagogical approaches of experiential learning, bridging virtual fieldwork with physical field trips, and inquiry-based learning. Our aim was to demonstrate the potential of simple and mobile virtual reality technologies such as in Google Expeditions in learning and teaching.

We gave a demonstration of Google Expeditions to give the participants an experience of looking at virtual reality through virtual reality viewers. The above photo shows participants viewing the Google Expeditions App on a smartphone inserted within the Google Cardboard

Virtual Reality and Employability

Depending upon the opportunities available to educators, we feel that for employability, at a minimum students should be made aware of virtual reality technologies and their potential. If time and curriculum allows, students should be made aware of the role virtual technology can play in learning and skills development and, finally, how virtual reality is being used in workplace practices (Figure 2).

Figure 2 : Three key areas related to virtual reality and employability

Figure 2: Three key areas related to virtual reality and employability

In Figure 3 below, we have 'unpacked' each of the areas in Figure 2 to illustrate how virtual reality technologies are being used in workplaces for learning, training, skills, development but virtual reality technologies are becoming integral to educational institutions, healthcare and businesses. 

Figure 3:    The way virtual reality is being used in each of the areas

Figure 3: The way virtual reality is being used in each of the areas

Resources

For more information on our research on mobile virtual reality via Google Expeditions, please see the web-page of our project

Virtual reality in education

Photos from the session (taken by Dr Ana-Despina Tudor)

Blog authors

Professor Shailey Minocha and Dr Ana-Despina Tudor

Context

We (Dr Ana-Despina Tudor and Professor Shailey Minocha) presented at an event organised by the Learning Design and Technology Enhanced Learning Special Interest Group of the Learning and Teaching Innovation unit of The Open University (OU) on 20 September 2017.

These are some key points of our talk in conjunction with our presentation (pdf file)

Virtual Reality Technologies

In our overview of virtual reality technologies, we highlighted four technologies on which we have conducted research over the last decade:

  • 3D multi-user avatar-based virtual worlds, e.g. Second Life;
  • 3D virtual environments developed in gaming environments such as in Unity 3D;
  • 360-degree videos that run in Chrome browser; and
  • Smartphone-driven virtual reality (VR) or mobile VR through VR viewers such as Google Cardboard.

In the last couple of years, there has been a move towards mobile VR – where VR applications run on smartphones and the VR immersive environment is recreated through the VR viewers.

We now describe each of the technologies and refer to the slide numbers of the presentation for easy reference.

Second Life

Second Life (slides 3-4) is a 3D virtual world where users interact via avatars and through voice, text and gestures. At the OU, we have used Second Life spaces to run tutorials with our distance-education students, for one-to-one meetings with PhD or MSc students, and for running conferences. We have used Second Life in our research projects – both as a research environment (for example, on the design of learning spaces in Second Life – realism and non-realism of spaces and how they influence student experience; link to one of our papers in OU's research repository), or as a venue to recruit participants, or to use Second Life spaces to interact with our research participants (e.g. workshops, interviews, seminars).

3D virtual environments in Unity 3D

In 2013, we developed a virtual geology field trip in a gaming environment of Unity 3D. Our aim was to have a private space for our students to interact in. OU has been developing virtual fieldwork components for its distance students for decades (interactive activities and videos on DVDs, Web-based interactive activities aided by videos, sample data, etc.). For example, an activity as a part of a virtual environmental field trip is available in OU’s Open Science Lab With so few opportunities to gain fieldwork experience, distance-learning students would be disadvantaged without an alternative, hence the impetus for our innovation – developing virtual geology field trip – Virtual Skiddaw - a virtual field trip (VFT) in a 3D gaming engine (slides 6-11)

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.The 3D virtual geology field trip - Virtual Skiddaw has several realistic features to create an ‘authentic learning space’: the landscape has been developed from data acquired directly from the area; an authentic soundtrack has been weaved into the experience to increase immersion and the feeling of actually being there in the Skiddaw mountains; and the audio guidance from the ‘virtual tutor’ audio mimics a typical field trip.

Further, the emphasis throughout the VFT is on the user - observing recording and assembling data and questioning it, navigating from site to site and ultimately piecing together the clues to the geological story. The ‘authentic’ learning experience is certainly richer and more interactive than reading a textbook or clicking through a static (2D) website, and hence more effective for learning.

There is a video of a short demo of Virtual Skiddaw at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zfbA1s9uRoU 

Please refer to this paper for more details about Virtual Skiddaw.

360-degree videos in the Chrome browser

In the Chrome browser, you can run 360-degree videos and navigate around the 3D space using the controller (up and down and sideways and all around) provided in YouTube in the Chrome browser (see slide 13). Such videos are becoming increasingly common in raising people’s interest in VR and in campaigns where developing other kinds of 3D environments would be expensive. For example, Economist’s Oceans VR app (to be run in Chrome browser) has 360-degree video which makes the case for limiting fishing on the high seas. It gives a perspective on the issue by allowing the user to navigate the ocean as fish, fisherman, consumer and policy maker. These 360-degree videos can also run via an app on a smartphone and by viewing them via the VR viewer such as the Google Cardboard.

This article on the role of 360-degree videos in education might be of interest: The Benefits of 360-degree videos and Virtual Reality in Education.

Smartphone-driven virtual reality

The field of education can be a key beneficiary of the smartphone-based VR application (app) trend as it can build on the previous adoption of apps in schools. Smartphone-based VR apps allow users to access and navigate 360-degree photospheres, or 360-degree videos of real or simulated places for educational purposes. VR can also provide experiences of unrealistic events, such as bringing dinosaurs to life in 360-degree videos, a collaboration between Google Arts and Culture and UK’s Natural History Museum. The Google Expeditions app with 360-degree photospheres has been the focus of our Google-funded research over the last year and a half.

Google Expeditions (GEs)  are guided field trips to places that students experience on a smartphone through a VR viewer called Google Cardboard. The GEs app (available for Android and iOS platforms) has currently over 700 expeditions. An expedition comprises of 360-degree photospheres of locations such as Grand Canyon, Antarctica and Iceland. Further, GEs have 360-degree simulations to envision concepts and systems such as the human heart, the respiratory system, or the process of pollination.

At this event (see slides 15-20), we described the technological affordances of GEs. Based on a large exploratory study, we discussed how these empirically-derived affordances support pedagogical approaches of experiential learning, bridging virtual fieldwork with physical field trips, and inquiry-based learning. Please see this paper on affordances of GEs.

Virtual Reality and Employability

We highlighted three areas of VR that students should be aware of for employability (see slides 21-23):

  • having a general awareness of VR and the technologies;
  • role of VR in learning, training and skills development; and
  • being aware of the use of VR in the workplace in a wide variety of domains and applications.

The slide 23 in our presentation describes the three bullet-points related to VR and employability. We have elaborated on virtual reality and employability skills in another blog-post

The future

We discussed that VR has now become accessible due to the mobility element as there are VR apps now that run on smartphones and there is a facility to watch 360-degree videos within the Web browser. As a result, the uptake of VR is becoming easy and we will see more of VR applications being integrated in education, in training and development in workplaces, and in the industry.

However, as with any other technology-enabled learning initiative, the role of educator is paramount - how the educator embeds the technology (VR in the context of this article) within the curriculum and designs activities around it, and, most importantly, how the educator is able to justify/explain to the student, peers and managers about the role that VR will play in student learning, engagement and attainment.

Resources

Please have a look at our list of publications in OU's Research repository for papers and reports related to the role of virtual reality and 3D virtual worlds in education. 

Also, as you scroll down our web-page of the Google Expeditions project, you will find links to a number of blog-posts from our experiences of investigating the role of mobile VR as in Google Expeditions in inquiry-based learning, in fieldwork education, and in experiential learning. 

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).

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

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).

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

Dr. Matthew Kam, Google Education Products Team

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

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).

Dr. Matthew Kam, Google Education