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

3D Virtual field trips and their relationship with physical field trips

At The Open University (OU), UK, we have a long tradition of virtual field trips to support our students at a distance. These virtual field trips have been made available on CD-ROMs, DVDs, on websites (e.g. Sorting out Soils in OU's Open Science Lab) and now in 3D avatar-based virtual environments (e.g. Virtual Skiddaw - the 3D virtual geology field trip in OU's Open Science Lab - OSL). Virtual field trips enable our students to familiarise themselves with the area and develop/practise fieldwork skills.

Virtual field trips (VFTs) can be perceived as replacements to physical field trips and even considered as a threat/obstacle for physical fieldwork (a survey of UK school teachers by Geographical Association). However, disciplines such as geology, biology, environmental science/studies and geography are founded on field observations, exploration, and enquiry. The skills for such disciplines are best learned and practised in the field - to discover and to be curious. In fact, fieldwork by its very definition involves leaving the classroom and engaging in activities through first-hand experience of the phenomena out-of-doors. 

We perceive VFTs being used to support, enhance and extend physical fieldwork so that students can make the most of their time out in the field. VFTs can help in preparation ahead of a physical field trip, and as revision aids after a physical field trip. 

Virtual Skiddaw is a browser-based 3D Geology VFT App within OSL. It was developed with a 3D game engine (Unity 3D). 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. Unlike other 3D virtual field trips that are normally based around fictional landscapes, the Virtual Skiddaw App has been developed using real data - digital photogrammetry, LiDAR data and maps from UK's Ordnance Survey. 

The multi-user avatar-based environment of Virtual Skiddaw facilitates interaction with other students and educators and facilitates synchronous communication, peer-to-peer learning and collaborative learning. There are six sites of Skiddaw in this VFT - each site has 5-6 activities. The 3D virtual environment (VE) facilitates learning activities that lead to improved transfer of knowledge and skills to real-life situations through contextualisation of learning. If students are unable to visit all the six sites due to time or weather constraints, then this VFT provides a space for practice and revision of fieldwork activities.

The sense of presence afforded by the 3D VE and the sense of self due to the avatars contribute towards an immersive experience for students and educators.

The evaluation of the Virtual Skiddaw initiative is being supported by OU's eSTEeM - The OU Centre for STEM pedagogy.  

Publications and reports by the project team are available in OU's Research Repository (ORO).

Role of wearable activity-tracking technologies on the well-being and quality of life of people aged 55 and over

About the project

Our research project at UK’s Open University and in collaboration with Age UK Milton Keynes aims to investigate whether there are changes in behaviour in people aged over 55 years through the use of wearable activity-tracking technologies. Example technologies include those from Fitbit, Jawbone, or smart watches from Apple or Samsung. Typically, these devices record steps walked, sleep patterns, or calories expended.  

The benefits of regular physical activity for older adults and those with chronic disease and/or mobility limitations are indisputable. Regular physical activity attenuates many of the health risks associated with obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression and anxiety, and cognitive decline. As physical activity levels among older adults (both with and without chronic disease) are low, facilitating an increase in activity levels is an important public health issue. Walking has been identified as an ideal means of low-impact, low-risk physical activity that can boost physical and mental wellbeing. Our previous research has shown that walking with others can help reduce social isolation and loneliness among people aged 55 and over.

Research strand related to participants trying out activity trackers

In our year-long project (May 2016 – April 2017), in collaboration with Age UK Milton Keynes and funded by the Sir Halley Stewart Trust, we have given activity-trackers to 21 participants in the age range from 55 – 82. Through monthly workshops, diaries that the participants are maintaining and sharing with us on a weekly basis, and through one-to-one interviews with them, we are investigating how the behaviours of our participants is changing – whether there is an increase in their activity such as walking or gardening, lifestyle changes, attitudes towards food/diet, and so on.

Our preliminary data analysis shows: increase in activity levels in all the participants; increased awareness of food intake; and sharing of data with the GPs to diagnose the non-optimal sleep patterns (one of them now has a treatment plan in place for poor sleep). A couple of participants have joined the gym when they realised that their desk-based work-life doesn’t give them the opportunity to stay active during the week. One of the participants who as high-sensitivity to ultraviolet rays is able to plan her outings by viewing the snapshot of the current UV level and by setting an exposure reminder to help protect herself. An 80+ participant is able to plan her days based on the activity levels that her device provides – having some rest-days in between hectic days so as not to over-tire herself.

A couple of quotes from our participants:

“I have been thinking about how the Fitbit has changed my daily routine and there is no doubt that it has changed my view of exercise. I am feeling better and the additional exercise continues to help with the osteoarthritis in my knees.  I have set my daily target as 5000 steps and I am now achieving this on most days, I feel I have failed if I don’t.” 
“I am still checking the number of steps but I don’t feel as disappointed if I haven’t reached my target.  There is no doubt that it has made me more aware of the need for exercise and I now park at the far side of the car park and walk to the shop – not much but its progress.”

Latest news about our project

We have launched a survey that is aimed at medical professionals to explore whether they use the data from these devices for diagnosis and intervention. Most importantly, do medical professionals use data from these devices to determine the behaviour or lifestyle changes in people aged over 55 years?  If you are a doctor or healthcare professional, please visit https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/role-in-medical-consultations or http://bit.ly/2cPr852 to participate in this survey. It will take 3-5 minutes to complete this survey.

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. 

 

Can animals help combat loneliness and dementia?

Can animals help combat loneliness and dementia?

People with dementia "spend a lot of time feeling challenged, and a warm physical presence can cut through that."Could these animals could change how we think about care for all the elderly?

Posted by Channel 4 News on Friday, March 25, 2016

On Channel 4 News tonight (and in this video), they discussed about therapeutic animal handling sessions that are held by Furry Tales in local care homes in the fight against social isolation and loneliness in  older people. 

Another similar venture is Pets as Therapy which is a national charity, that provides therapeutic visits to hospitals, hospices, nursing and care homes, special needs schools and a variety of other venues by volunteers with their own friendly, temperament tested and vaccinated dogs and cats.

In our report for Milton Keynes Council on social isolation and loneliness in people aged 55 and over in Milton Keynes, we have discussed the significance of pets for older people and how independently living older people who have pets tend to have better physical health and mental wellbeing than those that do not (pages 18-19 of the report).  

Also, see this article in the Guardian, 7 October 2014 that discusses how doctors are referring patients to a community pet handling project to reduce social isolation.