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).

Affordances of mobile virtual reality and their role in learning and teaching

Photos from lessons using Google expeditions and a simulation of the Respiratory System (one of the over 600 Google Expeditions)

Conference paper on affordances of Google Expeditions

On 5th July, we presented our paper 'Affordances of Mobile Virtual Reality and their Role in Learning and Teaching' (available from Open University's Research Repository at the British Computer Society Interaction Conference at University of Sunderland.

In this paper, we have reported the technological affordances of a virtual reality smartphone-driven educational app – Google Expeditions. An affordance implies the educators' and students' perceptions of how Google Expeditions (GEs) mobile virtual reality support their teaching and learning, and influence their experiences with virtual reality (VR).

Based on a large exploratory study in Google-funded Virtual Reality Research Award, we have identified 10 affordances of GEs in our data. In the paper, for each of the affordances, we discuss the perceptions of our participants: how their experiences of learning and teaching with VR were shaped by GE’s affordances. For each of the affordances and the associated perceptions, we have included quotes to exemplify the experiences.

Role of Affordances of Google Expeditions in Learning and Teaching

We discuss how these empirically-derived affordances support pedagogical approaches of:

  • experiential learning; 
  • bridging virtual fieldwork with physical field trips; and
  • inquiry-based learning. 

Adoption of Virtual Reality in Education

We discuss that the adoption of Google Expeditions or Virtual Reality, in general, in
education is limited by various factors:

  • the discipline/subject being studied;
  • match with the curriculum; and
  • resources available including time, budgets and opportunities for continuing professional development of educators.

Our findings suggest that the most effective use of VR will be when it is combined with other technologies such as videos, podcasts, wikis, blogs or forums, and mobile apps.

The adoption of VR in education is still in its infancy and its development will progress and mature as educators (and students) perceive and exploit the affordances of this technology for their teaching and learning. 

Please have a look at our paper  and please leave your comments/queries below. 


Dr Ana-Despina Tudor and Professor Shailey Minocha 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 David Morgan);

Association for Science Education (Mr Richard Needham and Ms Marianne Cutler); and

Geographical Association (Ms Rebecca Kitchen).