virtual fieldwork

Mobile virtual reality in environmental education

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Year 7, Geography field trip of Prestwood Nature Reserve

Case study on the use of Google Expeditions in outdoor fieldwork

Our paper has been published in Journal of Virtual Studies, vol. 9, no. 2, 2018, pp. 25-36. 

In this paper, we have reported students' experiences of using Google Expeditions, a mobile virtual reality application, to learn about the environmental impact of large scale developments on nature reserves. Students were on a geography field trip to Prestwood Nature Reserve not very far from their school. They looked at Borneo rain forests via the Google Expeditions app while in the field and became aware of the issues created by large-scale development on the environment. They were able to discuss and reflect on the implications of planned large scale development (a high speed railway, called HS2) close to their local nature reserve (that they were visiting) in the Chilterns. 

The pdf file of the entire issue of the journal is here (1.7 MB)


We are grateful to our colleague, Dr Trevor Collins, Knowldege Media Institute, UK's Open University, who guided us on how we (the research team) could use Google Expeditions and the kit (mobile phones, router and the Tablet) in an outdoor field trip.

Mrs Melanie Collins, Head of Humanities, Pipers Corner School, ran the field trip and is one of the authors of this paper.  


The Open University (OU), UK, has been conducting a school-based research project (funded by Google and the OU) on the potential use of mobile virtual reality via Google Expeditions in science and geography in school education.

Google Expeditions is a mobile virtual reality (VR) which is 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

An expedition in the Google Expeditions (GEs) app comprises of 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; the Borneo Rainforest 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.

The GEs app (available for Android and iOS platforms) has over 700 expeditions.

Using a tablet and via the GEs app, the educator guides the students to look at the scenes of an expedition. The students use the app in the ‘follower’ mode and experience the GE/VR through the smart-phone embedded within a VR viewer.


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.

Related blog post to this paper is here: Connecting the learning from an international context to a local context in geography fieldwork via Google Expeditions


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).

Virtual Reality in education and for employability

3D virtual environments in Second Life and developed using Unity 3D; virtual reality through 360-degree videos and 360-degree photospheres viewed through virtual reality viewers

3D virtual environments in Second Life and developed using Unity 3D; virtual reality through 360-degree videos and 360-degree photospheres viewed through virtual reality viewers

Webinar at the ALT Online Winter Conference 2017

On 13 December 2017, Dr Ana-Despina Tudor (@AATudor) and I presented a webinar at the ALT Online Winter Conference 2017.

Virtual reality in education and for employability

Virtual reality is becoming pervasive in several domains - in arts and film-making, for environmental causes, in medical education, in disaster management training, in sports broadcasting, in entertainment, and in supporting patients with dementia. An awareness of virtual reality technology and its integration in curriculum design will provide and enhance employability skills for current and future workplaces.

In this webinar, we described the evolution of virtual reality technologies and our research in 3D virtual worlds, 3D virtual environments developed in Unity 3D, and mobile virtual reality via 360-degree photospheres (e.g. as in the Google Expeditions app) and 360-degree videos. We discussed the technological and pedagogical affordances of virtual reality technologies and how they contribute towards learning and teaching. We discussed the significance of using virtual reality in education, in training and skills development, and for employability.

Presentation and recording

The presentation can be downloaded as a pdf from here (16.5 MB).

Webinar recording is at this link

Questions and answers during the session

Compiled by Dr Ana-Despina Tudor: Please refer to the  presentation (pdf file) for the context of the questions.

Question: Other than Google, are there any virtual reality (VR) education companies/start-ups out there that you would recommend we should have a look at?

The Guardian VR App: or

The Economist: A 360-degree video about the oceans and corals that has the VR effect in the Chrome browser. and

WaterAid: A VR documentary about the water crisis following the earthquake in Nepal in 2015.

Nearpod: A platform for interactive lessons.

Daden, consultancy in the UK: They have developed several applications for training and education. “Fieldscapes” ( has a mobile VR field trip to the Carding Mill Valley in Shropshire, UK.

Digital Explorers: provide 360-degree videos of various locations that can be accessed in the browser or via a VR viewer.

Class VR: Virtual reality on own head-mounted display (does not require to own a smartphone). Offers content for both virtual reality and augmented reality (AR).

VR on PlayStation (example), please have a look at this article:

Question: How have you dealt with accessibility in VR? For example, hearing-impaired students in Second Life when voice chat is going on, or visually-impaired students seeing what is going on at all?

In Second Life, we tend to transcribe along with a voice chat. In fact, I (Shailey) have done live-transcriptions in various Second Life events to describe the voice chat and context of conversations so that hearing-impaired users are catered for. For partially-sighted users, we tend to describe the scenes as we go along but I (Shailey) have encountered more of hearing impairments in Second Life than visual impairments.

The Google Expeditions App doesn’t have any audio. So, it is not a barrier for people with hearing impairments. However, the App can’t be used effectively for partially sighted people or with no vision at all unless the usage is accompanied by some audio commentary. When Google Expeditions runs in the Lead or Guide mode, for example, when an educator is driving the demonstration or lesson, there is an introductory text and examples of questions for each of the scenes in the expedition – which an educator or a teaching assistant may use to describe the scenes.

When the Google Expeditions app was first launched, the app could only run in the ‘follower mode’ (student) but the students can also run the expeditions in 'guide' mode – and, therefore, have descriptions of the scenes. So, even a fellow student may be able to help describe the scenes to a visually impaired student. Further, a partially sighted user may choose to run the expeditions on a Tablet (bigger screen) and without the VR viewers for greater visibility of the scenes as compared to a phone-screen.

Question: As a replacement for real field trips, is there any worry of losing out on new discoveries? You can only experience what has been created by your teachers — you can't prove them wrong.

We don’t perceive virtual field trips as a replacement for outdoor fieldwork. The design of the virtual geology field trip (Virtual Skiddaw) was based in the learning activities and curricula and our geologist colleague Dr Tom Argles replicated the physical field trip in the design of the virtual field trip. But we do understand your point about the selectivity by the educator and missing out the aspects that students would otherwise observe if they were in an outdoor field trip. This may be another critical reason that virtual field trips should be seen as supporting a physical field trip rather than replacing it.

Using a virtual field trip before a field trip can familiarise students with a place, can help them assess the risks and prepare better, can raise their curiosity and help them formulate questions and conduct research while in the field. During the field trip, students can use the virtual field trip(s) to compare locations. After a field trip, VR can be used to help students revise their learning and re-visit locations from a different perspective.  

In Google Expeditions, there can be indeed a selectivity effect of the virtual locations being shown, as pointed out in this question. However, the 360-degree view gives the whole picture of a location. Students can look up and down, left or right. The content creators have used so far birds’ eye view images, images from the ground level and underwater.

Also, there are apps such as Cardboard Camera that allow users to take 360-degree photospheres. If students are able to visit these locations, students can compare the photospheres they took with the ones taken by the educator and have a comprehensive view and perception of the place they have visited.

Question: How do you account for variations in student digital literacy?

So far we haven’t faced any issues with students using the mobile VR on smartphones. As researchers, we have been at hand to help during lessons too. We were invited to run lessons using Google expeditions by those educators who had already been using technology-enabled initiatives in their lessons. There are many educators who raised this concern and noted that many of their colleagues might find the technology difficult to manage for a class, such as: charging up to 30 phones, conducting system updates, downloading and maintaining the latest version of the app, running the app, setting up the network so that the tablet of the educator communicates with the smartphones used by students.

We feel that it is the educator’s digital capability and digital literacy that will influence the students’ digital literacy and capabilities.

Question: Do you prefer the students to sit on chairs, fixed chairs, rotating office chairs, cushions on the floor or stand?

It depends on the preference of students and educators. Some students preferred to stand while others were lying on the ground. When students stood up, they were advised to turn around but not walk around, as they might stumble or hit furniture. Educators gave them frequent pauses to discuss what they were seeing or to do some written activities so that they don’t feel unwell or feel nausea by looking at VR without breaks.

Question: top tip on where to start - low cost?

The Google Expeditions app is free and can be downloaded on iOS and Android phones. You will need to buy a VR viewer (starting from £5). Also, there are online guides on how to build your own cardboard VR viewer.

As an alternative and in the absence of smartphones, educators can use the app on tablets (but it would be a 2D effect only).

You can also download other Apps such as the Guardian VR to get a feel of the potential of this technology and its possible use in education.

Question: Are there any VR or AR projects to expand beyond visual and audio senses (such as touch), to completely immerse in a virtual world?

A haptic glove that works with HTC Vive:

There are projects in higher education that use haptic feedback for medical training, for instance:

Workshop on Google Expeditions at the Geographical Association Conference

Photo: Smartphone-driven Virtual Reality-based Google Expeditions App workshop

Photo: Smartphone-driven Virtual Reality-based Google Expeditions App workshop

Workshop title: Investigating the role of virtual reality in geography via Google Expeditions at the Geographical Association's 2017 Annual Conference on Friday, 21 April at 9 am. 

Workshop organisers: Dr Steve Tilling, Dr Ana-Despina Tudor, Ms Becky Kitchen and Professor Shailey Minocha

About Google ExpeditionsGoogle 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.

Details of the workshop: Participants will have the opportunity of a hands-on session with Google Expeditions and will be invited to discuss/evaluate the outcomes of a Google-funded project that has investigated the role of virtual reality in geography and science school education.

Our research objectives for geography education in schools have been:

  • —Whether and how smartphone-based Virtual Reality with 360 photospheres like Google Expeditions (GEs) can be integrated in the Geography curriculum - e.g. teaching geographical concepts and phenomena
  • —How smartphone-driven Virtual Reality like in GEs can support geographical enquiry?
  • —How smartphone-driven Virtual Reality like in GEs can complement physical field trips?

In the workshop, we will specifically focus on the role of Virtual Reality in geographical enquiry - both in the context of classroom practice and for physical field trips.

Google expeditions and fieldwork: friends or foes?

The Association for Science Education (ASE) Annual Conference

Workshop on Saturday 7th January 2017

The Research Project:

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.

The Open University (OU), UK are conducting a school-based research project (funded by Google and the OU; July 2016 - June 2017) on the potential use of VR via Google Expeditions in secondary school science and geography.

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.

About the Workshop:

This workshop will provide an opportunity to try out Google Expeditions and to explore how they could be used to support teaching and learning, including fieldwork.

Are Google Expeditions a threat to traditional field trips or could they become a complementary tool for strengthening the quality of outdoor learning, for example by providing an immersive technology which adds context and substance to pre-field preparation, in-field activities and post-field revision and reflection?


Ana-Despina Tudor and Shailey Minocha (The Open University, UK)

Steve Tilling (Field Studies Council)

Marianne Cutler (ASE) and Richard Needham (ASE and Vicia Learning Solutions Ltd.)

Workshop location at the ASE Conference: 

Henley Business School, 101, University of Reading, UK

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