Students swim with sharks, explore space, through Virtual Reality

Scene from Underwater Caribbean, one of the Google Expeditions

Scene from Underwater Caribbean, one of the 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 expeditions - which are 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, Borneo Rain Forest, and the International Space Station. These visualisations enable students and teachers 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.


We (the research team based at The Open University, Dr. Ana-Despina Tudor and I) were interviewed recently by the journalist for CNN and the article was published on CNN's website on 19 September 2017Students swim with sharks, explore space, through VR

Key research Strands in this CNN article

These are some of key research strands from our project which we discussed in the CNN article/interview

First-person perspective 

The authenticity of the physical spaces in the Google Expeditions facilitates the students taking up role(s) of professionals who belong to that context (e.g. astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS), or divers in Great Barrier Reef). The perceptions towards this affordance of first person perspective, as uncovered in our research, are sense of presence and taking the role(s) of persons inhabiting the environment.

For more details, see our post on affordances: Affordances of mobile virtual reality and their role in learning and teaching 

Inquiry-based Learning

Inquiry-based learning (IBL) involves students collecting and interpreting data, and synthesising the information and evidence to address real-world problems in subjects such as history, science and geography. Inquiry learning enables the development of skills for scientific inquiry such as problem-solving and critical thinking. Questions are at the core of any inquiry – questions that the students are curious about and which are situated within the learning outcomes of the lesson.

We have seen that Google Expeditions create a curiosity or need to know, if shown at the start of the inquiry process. The affordances of Google Expeditions facilitate student-questioning and development of high-order questions - more analytical and evaluative than students are able to formulate by looking at videos, pictures, text, etc. 

For more details, see our post: Role of smartphone-driven virtual reality field trips in inquiry-based learning  

Also, see our paper on affordances as a pointer from this blog-post: Affordances of mobile virtual reality and their role in learning and teaching 

Virtual Reality-based field trips in Google Expeditions support outdoor fieldwork 

In our year-long research project, we have investigated how Google Expeditions bridges virtual fieldwork with physical field trips, facilitates inquiry-based fieldwork and experiential learning and improves the effectiveness of outdoor fieldwork education. 

For more details, see our posts: Virtual-Reality Google Expeditions Augment the Physical field trip Experience  and Investigating the role of virtual reality in geography via Google Expeditions

Additional Information

For more pointers to blog-posts and news items related to our research on Google Expeditions, please see our project web-page on Google Expeditions.

Project team

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

Dr. Matthew Kam, Research Lead, 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).