virtual fieldwork

Reflections on our virtual reality projects - part 1

Our journey into virtual worlds or virtual reality research started in Second Life.

Second Life

Educators gathering in Second Life ahead of the Virtual Worlds Education Roundtable’s weekly meeting

Educators gathering in Second Life ahead of the Virtual Worlds Education Roundtable’s weekly meeting

In 2007, we started investigating the role of a three-dimensional (3D) virtual world Second Life in education - and particularly, in supporting our university’s (The Open University, UK) students who study part-time and at a distance. We found Second Life to be useful for running tutorials with our students, for one-to-one meetings with our post-graduate students and for socialisation of students who were new to the university. The educators at our university ‘met’ with educators of other institutions/countries in this environment and learned from one another in the weekly meetings of Virtual Worlds Education Roundtable.

Encouraged by our experiences in Second Life, we embarked on developing a virtual geology field trip for our second level undergraduate students as a part of their Earth Sciences module.

Virtual Skiddaw - a virtual geology field trip

Sketch points to guide sketching in the virtual geology field trip

Sketch points to guide sketching in the virtual geology field trip

Our students are sometimes unable to participate in field trips due to family constraints or due to health or time constraints. So, we were keen to provide an experience to students as if they have visited Skiddaw mountains in the Lake District. So, with the help of digital photogrammetry and 3D modelling, we have simulated the six sites of the field trip to Skiddaw mountains in this 3D environment. It is an avatar-based environment - it is multi-user - so, students can come together to carry out activities together or the tutor can come in and take them on to a field trip just as our Geologist colleague does in real life. Each avatar has a name that you enter when you log in. You can find out from here where in the six sites each of the avatars are. You can text to one another. So, the tutor can send our messages to students. This environment support individual learning, peer-to-peer learning collaborative learning and tutor-led teaching and learning.

We have not only replicated the six sites of the Skiddaw mountains but we have added features and functionality that may not be possible to experience in real life: for example, draping the maps over mountains - geological map gives an insight into the different rock structures and how they are spread over the land, or bringing up a cross-section to see the geology underneath, or being able to fly and to have a helicopter view of the whole terrain, or being able to teleport to different sites. Each site has activities - so, you can pick up a rock and look at it under the virtual microscope. Virtual microscope is an OU application which is integrated within this Skiddaw app. So, you would normally pick up a rock and take it back to the field centre to study it whereas here our students can look at the rock while they are in the field and on a particular site - so, they learn within the context itself.

Webpage of the Virtual Skiddaw field trip

Videos of the field trip on YouTube: Video 1 and Video 2

Colleagues: Brian Richardson led the production of this app. Tom Argles was our Geologist expert who guided us on how the physical field trip experience could be replicated in a virtual environment.

Smartphone-driven Virtual Reality via 360-degree photospheres and 360-degree videos

We will discuss the next two initiatives of Google Expeditions (360 degree photospheres) and VR via 360 degree videos in our journey of virtual reality in the next blog-post.

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

Tracy-our-blog.jpg

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 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 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.”

Reflections

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).

Virtual-Reality Google Expeditions Augment the Physical field trip Experience

Workshop with fieldworkers earlier this year at the Field Studies Council Offices in Preston Montford, Shrewsbury, UK

Workshop with fieldworkers earlier this year at the Field Studies Council Offices in Preston Montford, Shrewsbury, UK

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.

Fieldwork, which involves leaving the classroom and engaging in teaching and learning through first-hand experience of phenomena out-of-doors, has a long tradition in geography and in certain sciences, notably biology and environmental science. Learning in the ‘real world’ through exploration and enquiry is particularly valuable for introducing students to the complexity and messiness of the real world. However, there are several barriers to physical fieldwork such as time-constraints; it is expensive; requires health and safety assessment; students should have some essential fieldwork skills to make the best use of their time in the field; and the support staff require training for conducting physical field trips (see: Year of fieldwork: why do we need it?).

Virtual field trips, which are designed in 3D virtual reality platforms (e.g. for desktop computers or for mobile phone apps such as Google Expeditions) provide realistic spaces and contexts and have enormous potential for supporting fieldwork before, during, and after a physical field trip. One of the research questions that we have focused on is concerned with this potential:

How can virtual reality-based virtual field trips via Google Expeditions support physical fieldwork?

Virtual field trips and how they support physical fieldwork

There are two kinds of virtual field trips in Google Expeditions:

  • places that may be difficult to experience in real-life such as underwater excursions of the Great Barrier Reef to view the coral bleaching and effects of climate change; and
  • places that one can visit in real-life but it may not always be feasible to do so due to resource, distance, or mobility constraints – for example, London Olympic Park, or visiting tropical rainforests in Borneo, or pyramids in Egypt.

We have identified several characteristics of Google Expeditions that may help to complement physical field trips:

  • The 360-degree photospheres in Google Expeditions and the 3D view that the virtual reality viewer generates create an ‘authentic learning space’ in virtual field trips.
  • Being able to navigate in 360-degrees, that is, moving your head up and down and from side to side and being able to place the viewer on your eyes gives an individualised first-hand viewing experience.
  • The participants in our empirical research have commented on the sense of presence – ‘as if I was there’ and the sense of space – being able to perceive the spatial relationships in a scene of the expedition.

The authentic spaces, and the sense of presence and sense of space that the users experience in virtual reality set an authentic context for learning – enabling the educators to relate virtual field trips in Google Expeditions to real-world experiences of physical field trips. For example,

  • before a physical field trip, Google Expeditions can support students to practice and gain observation skills, or in the formulation of inquiry questions for the physical field trip, or to conduct risk assessment; the support staff can learn and prepare themselves for managing a group of students and for assisting in the fieldwork activities;
  • during physical field trips, Google Expeditions can help sensitise the students to the issues of the location of the physical field trip with other parts of the world – for example, how will the area of their physical field trip change due to footfall by tourists and construction of hotels and holiday resorts – and showing them the ‘Environmental change in Borneo’ expedition (see http://bit.ly/2oiiDCw in the Weekly Teacher Tips of Google Expeditions, 29 November 2016); and
  • virtual field trips provide a space for de-briefing by the educator, for reflection, and for consolidation of knowledge after a physical field trip.

The realism of virtual field trips and the sense of presence and the sense of place that they generate can help augment the physical field trip experience and support the learning gained through physical field trips.

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).

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).

The role of Virtual Reality-based virtual field trips in supporting physical fieldwork

The authors of this blog-post are Professor Shailey Minocha and Dr Ana-Despina Tudor of The Open University, UK and Dr Steve Tilling, Field Studies Council, UK.

Audience in the Science Circle island of Second Life (picture courtesy: Chantal Snoek, Founder, Science Circle)

Audience in the Science Circle island of Second Life (picture courtesy: Chantal Snoek, Founder, Science Circle)

Taking the example of Virtual Reality-based Google Expeditions, in a presentation in the 3D virtual world, Second Life on 3 September 2016, we (Dr Ana-Despina Tudor and Professor Shailey Minocha, The Open University, UK and Dr. Steve Tilling, Field Studies Council) discussed how virtual field trips can prepare students for physical fieldwork and enhance the fieldwork experience during and after a physical field trip. Our project's details are summarised in a previous blog-post

In this Second Life talk, we presented the results from our preliminary investigations with Geography and Science educators, fieldworkers and curriculum leaders. The presentation slides are available here.

These are some of the themes that came up in the discussion:

  • significance of outdoor fieldwork in Geography and Science (the two subjects of study in our project); 
  • constraints on how physical field trips may not always be feasible because of some of these challenges: cost constraints, safety concerns, time limitations (in the school timetables);
  • cost of the VR technology - smartphones, tablets, virtual reality (VR) viewers and availability of network for smartphone and mobile-app based VR such as in the case of Google Expeditions; concerns about the affordability for schools and parents; 

Discussion quotes: 

"biggest challenges would be money, not allowing smartphones in schools (we have 1:1 laptops instead) and admin buy-in"

"If schools in the UK can find a way of providing tablets that can be used in class that would be great so we can avoid the issue of affordability of some families."

  • need of guidance or resources or lesson-plans for teachers for using such technologies in the classrooms;
  • teachers would like to create their own content but is it really feasible given the time-constraints?
  • concern about teachers having to keep pace with the ever-changing VR-landscape;
  • need for sufficient evidence on the role of VR in education and in schools for adoption.

Dr Steve Tilling, UK's Field Studies Council, said: "I'd just say that I think VR will follow a similar path to Google Earth. Slow at first, but accelerated rapidly as teachers developed their own resources. Now, 10 years later, many geographers, and some scientists, would struggle to survive without it."

Our thanks to Chantal Snoek, Founder of Science Circle, for hosting our presentation in the Science Circle island in Second Life.

We will keep you posted on our future events and research results. 

Investigating the role of virtual reality in Science and Geography in schools via Google Expeditions

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  Teachers of Science and Geography trying out Google Expeditions at a local school in Milton Keynes, UK.  [Dr Ana-Despina Tudor of UK's Open University (standing) was leading the session.]

Teachers of Science and Geography trying out Google Expeditions at a local school in Milton Keynes, UK.

[Dr Ana-Despina Tudor of UK's Open University (standing) was leading the session.]

The authors of this blog post are: Professor Shailey Minocha and Dr Ana-Despina Tudor of The Open University, UK and Dr Steve Tilling, UK's Field Studies Council.

The year 2016 is when Virtual Reality has finally become a mainstream product, with major investment by some of the leading developers in the IT and smartphone sector (e.g. HTC, Samsung, Sony). Whilst the Virtual Reality (VR) devices being launched this year are usually associated with gaming and entertainment, their potential in education is also being explored. 

Google Expeditions (GEs) is one of the VR approaches being promoted by Google in schools globally. GEs are guided tours (field trips) of places that students experience on a smartphone through a virtual reality viewer called Google cardboard (see video). Also, see another video.

A GE comprises of 360 degrees scenes or panoramas of a location (e.g. a museum, or a city like Rio de Janeiro) along with the description of that location, points of interest and some suggested questions for inquiry and discussion. GEs also enable visualisation of locations which may not be feasible or easy to visit in real life (e.g. volcanoes, or an underwater visit to Great Barrier Reef, or Galapagos islands). Further, GE-like VR-based simulations can help to envision concepts and systems such as the human heart, circulatory system, or a plant cell. Using a Tablet and via the GEs App (available from Google Play Store), a teacher can guide students to look at places and concepts. Students experience the GE/VR through the smartphones embedded within the VR viewers.

The Open University (OU), UK are conducting a school-based research project (funded by Google and the OU) on the potential use of VR via GEs in secondary school science and geography classes. The project is being co-led by Field Studies Council, and UK's Association for Science Education and Geographical Association are the two partnering organisations. The project will run until July 2017 (project website). 

The focus of this project is to understand:

  • how VR-based field trips can prepare students for physical fieldwork in Science and Geography classes;
  • how effectiveVR-based simulations are at representing scientific or geographic concepts (e.g. showing students a human heart, taking them to an underwater excursion);
  • whether VR-based field trips facilitate spatial literacy; and
  • whether VR-based field trips support self-directed inquiry-based learning.

Involvement of schools in the UK in the Autumn term 2016

These are the following ways in which we are inviting schools and teachers (KS3, KS4 and A-levels) to participate in our research.

  • in-class sessions with students and teachers where teachers can try out GEs during a Science or Geography lesson (the OU researchers will help teachers plan the lesson ahead of the session(s)).
  • meeting with a group of Science and Geography teachers during lunch-hour or at the end of the school-day; this will involve a demo and hands-on and discussion on virtual reality field trips and their role in Science and Geography Curricula.
  • involving teachers to review GE-based virtual field trips with the view of reflecting on the role of VR-based field trips in teaching and learning Science and Geography.

To express your interest in taking part in this project, please complete this online form: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/Virtual-Reality-Google-Expeditions or http://bit.ly/29ShR6k. Alternatively, please contact Dr Ana-Despina Tudor or Professor Shailey Minocha at the OU (ana.tudor@open.ac.uk; shailey.minocha@open.ac.uk)

The research will be carried out with approval from OU’s Human Research Ethics Committee. The findings of the project will be shared with teachers and their schools. Ways of recognising participating schools and teachers are currently being investigated.

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    Teachers, policy makers and fieldworkers at a Google Expeditions workshop at UK’s Open University in Milton Keynes

Teachers, policy makers and fieldworkers at a Google Expeditions workshop at UK’s Open University in Milton Keynes

Virtual-reality based field trips and climate change

In our Google-funded Google Expeditions project, we are investigating the role of virtual reality (VR)-based field trips in complementing physical field trips - for preparation ahead of a physical field trip, for spatial literacy and awareness during a physical field trip, and for revision/reflection and even for completion of activities (if some of them couldn't be completed due to weather, etc.) after a physical field trip.

Most importantly, we are investigating the role of VR-based field trips in simulating learning scenarios that the students may not be able to experience in real life or may not be able to travel due to constraints of resources.

Towards this objective, we are interacting with UK school teachers for eliciting their critique on existing Google Expeditions and also for generating ideas for 'new' Google Expeditions and for the theme 'Climate change'.

This article Can virtual reality emerge as a tool for conservation? discusses the role of virtual reality in raising awareness of conservation issues such as those related to climate change - it reinforces our research objectives - how VR-based field trips can aid student engagement and student attainment. 

Through this blog, we will keep you updated as we carry out our research in UK schools. We are primarily focussing on subjects that have a fieldwork component - Geography and Science (e.g. Biology) but we are aware that for a theme like Climate Change, we may have to interact with teachers from other disciplines such as economics and history.