Virtually real field trips to the Galapagos – Our first trip with Google Expeditions

Before Spring Break, I showcased a few Google Cardboard visors I purchased.  I had a few exciting science and world language teachers, so I encouraged them to put together a Donors Choose grantAfter a sweeping act of kindness by one company, we found out that a Google Expeditions set was fully funded!  After some setup to configure the Android-based teacher guide/tablet and the student visors on our network, we took a trip to the Galapagos!

The Activity

Since we only had ten visors, we had students engaged in an independent activity in our media center commons area while we took students exploring.  Each “shift” lasted about fifteen minutes, and that seemed to make for a good rotation with about 25 students per class.  Biology students went underwater to see reef life, some sea mammals, fish, turtles… and a shark in the distance!  The first expedition was a hit.  As you scroll through the Twitter Moment below, you’ll see the rolling chairs with reclining backs allowed students to see the full 360 image.  Many found themselves trying to reach out to touch the reef (a big no-no in my experience snorkeling).  Students couldn’t wait for the next image or a video.  There are so many other Expeditions to go on, and Google has done a good job curating experiences in arts, science, environment, history, monuments, museums, colleges and careers!  Click to see what all they offer.

What We Learned About Facilitating VR Experiences

We learned a few things about Expeditions and VR during this event.  Of course, the rolling chairs helped a lot, but that reaching effect could have also led to some unwanted touching.  Before each session, we asked students to stay an arms-length away to allow for that experience.  I could see where safety could be a concern in stationary seats or a fully-furnished room.  Students need some wiggle room, but they do need to stay seated.  Standing would definitely be riskier.

Google warns on startup that viewers with a history of seizures shouldn’t participate.  We checked our student information system before planning to look for students with those health risks, but we also made sure to ask students who had suffered head injuries (from sports, for example) to also sit out.  As we switched images, some students also complained the transition “hurt”, much like turning on the lights full blast right after watching a movie.  So, we adjusted our pacing by verbally queueing students to give their eyes a break, take off the visor and then put it back on after the next image/scene loaded on their device.

The Expeditions are fortunately well-timed and planned.  That fifteen-minute length for each expedition was comfortable for most students.  We didn’t’ receive any complaints of disorientation common for longer-lasting VR experiences.  Nevertheless, the cautious teacher would have students take a minute to stay seated while their bearings get re-adjusted.

Next stop?  Well, we’re going to work on another Donors Choose page to fill up our inventory.  I think we’d also like to broaden the offerings.  So, if you’re a reader and colleague, get in touch!

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