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Google Expeditions: Comparing the "explorer" experiences on Tablets and Virtual Reality viewers

iPads set-up for students ("explorers") and educator ("guide") ahead of a lesson using Google Expeditions (Photo courtesy: Dr. Ana-Despina Tudor) 

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 VR viewer called Google cardboard.  

GOOGLE EXPEDITIONS KIT

When we have been visiting schools as a part of our research project, we have noted that the main obstacle for adopting Google Expeditions in schools is the cost of the equipment, and especially the constraint of not having 1:1 smartphones for their students.

In January 2017, we worked with a school which has 1:1 iPads for its students from Year 4 onwards, to investigate student and educator experiences of Google Expeditions on iPads, and how the experiences compare with using smartphone driven VR through VR viewers.

HOW iPads FARED IN COMPARISON WITH SMARTPHONE-DRIVEN VIRTUAL REALITY?

These are some of our reflections:

  • Students normally use the iPads on stands. They found that iPads (with their protective covers) were heavy to move around to view the Expeditions. “I liked the virtual reality [VR-viewer] because it was lighter to hold and it’s smaller.”
  • Some of the students reverted back to keeping the iPad on the stand and using the fingers to swipe through the screen – a mode of interaction that they are used to. For these students who reverted to a stationary iPad, the 360-degree experience was different and less engaging due to moving restrictions. Another student remarked: “I prefer the virtual reality [VR-Viewer] because it wasn’t hard to use. The iPads [the scene] wouldn’t move when you moved it, but the virtual reality [VR viewer] did.” 
  • The educator felt the students were more distracted in the iPad lesson as compared to the VR-viewer lesson. Once the VR-viewers are close to the student’s eyes, they have an individual focused experience and are not so much affected by others in the room and events around them.  The educator said:“it [VR-viewer-lesson] was much more self-directed. There was a lot less low-level disruption. They were looking and taking to their partners, but it was on task as compared to just spinning randomly…”
  • The sense of presence – or the sense of being there was perceived to be more in the VR-viewer lessons by the students: “because it looks more realistic and you can hold it to your face... and so it feels like you are there…but you can’t with the iPad.”
  • Moreover, students could zoom in and out on the iPad – an interaction which also comes naturally to Tablet users.
  • If the students were pointing to a particular aspect of the Expedition for clarification by the teacher, the educator found it easier to address that in the iPad classes as she could walk over to the student and look at their iPad screen.
  • The educator suggested that having both iPads and VR-viewers in the lesson could be helpful: VR-viewers facilitate self-exploration and immersive ‘individual’ experience of the expeditions. iPads could be used for group-work, discussion in pairs, for accessing other Apps, and for discussions that involve the entire class - when the teacher uses the iPad to display the expedition using the classroom projector. Students also pointed out that that both technologies can be helpful: “Both of them helped me learn because [on] the iPad I saw it in detail and the VR [virtual reality] was getting the experience better.”
  • Some students preferred the larger screen of an iPad: “it [iPad] gave the picture larger. You didn’t have to put the iPad on your face. It gave me the full look around and gave the chance to move [within the scene] with nothing on me. Sometimes my eyes got fuzzy with virtual reality [VR viewer] compared to the iPad. You could see the bit she [the educator] was talking about clearer and nice and big [on the iPad].”

The educator, after having reflected on the activities that the students carried out in the lessons, concluded: “They do both [iPads and smartphone-driven VR viewers] help learning, but you do get a bit more from the VR experience. However, as a compromise, if you haven’t got the VR [equipment], you could do it with iPads.”

With over 400 expeditions, the Google expeditions App provides a very rich resource for teaching and learning, and for virtual field trips. The educator added: “if you have a small group [of students], have a few iPads out… they can explore something [in the expeditions] even just to enhance their awareness of this technology…start planting the seeds of how will that [VR] work.”

The Project team

Dr. Matthew Kam, Research Lead, Google Education

Professor Shailey Minocha and Dr Ana-Despina Tudor at 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).

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