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The power of VR: bring learning to life with Google Cardboard

VR is an underused edtech tool for teachers of geography, art and history. Read how to get started with VR using Google Cardboard.

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Emerging technologies like virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are becoming increasingly popular — not to mention accessible — in the public domain. After the soaring popularity of Google Cardboard, VR and AR are no longer reserved for heavy gamers or exhibition stands at trade shows.

The extensive benefits of viewing content in an entirely immersive environment, or layering digital elements over real life, are evident for children, consumers, businesses, and now for educators. Today’s edtech tools are becoming more exciting for teachers and pupil as a result.

STEM still has a tech advantage

There’s no denying that technology is revolutionising education. More teachers are adopting edtech to enhance their teaching methods, engage mixed-ability classes, and to motivate their pupils. Our recent report on The State of Technology in Education 2017/18, however, revealed that emerging technologies are not being optimised outside of STEM classes; science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

According to our report, the majority of teachers believe that computing (69%), design and technology (41%) and maths (39%) educators are effectively utilising technology in the classroom. There is minimal increase, however, in the use of technology across core subjects such as history (5%), English (5%) and geography (4%), and softer subjects like art & design (12%). This reveals a considerable gap and therefore hugely untapped opportunity in pedagogy.

VR, meanwhile, is set to make waves in education. The number of free applications and platforms designed specifically for virtual education is increasing. Some teachers dismiss VR as too complicated, too expensive or simply irrelevant to their teaching methods.

If more teachers in non-tech classes had visibility on the opportunities at their fingertips, they would have the potential to revolutionise their learning techniques.

What is Google Cardboard?

Google Cardboard is an inexpensive viewer designed for watching VR content through your mobile device. As the name suggests, it’s made from simple and inexpensive materials. The app allows users to pair it with most iOS and Android phones. Unlike the VR Oculus gear that retails for around £500, Google’s solution is affordable and accessible to everyone.

Here are some ideas to incorporate VR through Google Cardboard in core subjects in which edtech is underutilised:

Street view

Google Maps, one of the most used apps available, is incredibly popular for satellite navigation and location discovery, but one of the most used Google Maps functions is street view. It is used to get a real-world view of an address or known location, through 360 degrees photography captured by Google. Such a holistic experience lends itself well to VR, as the panoramic photography has already been captured. Google made the intuitive connection, and now there is a VR icon in the Street View app.

The best use for Street View VR in the classroom is to demonstrate the change of architecture and design across different periods and geographical regions. Students can be transported across to globe to look at Modernist Gaudi architecture in Catalunya, the Colosseum in Rome, Everest Base Camp or Stonehenge in Wiltshire.

Using VR through Street View can bring so many locations to life, and its use can span teaching across key subjects.

Google Expeditions

Google Expeditions goes a step further than Street View. It is a smart amalgamation of the huge database of imagery and information held across the globe, converted into a one-stop teaching tool. Places of historical, geographical and political importance are highlighted and additional information is provided on the screen to supplement the learning experience.

The tool allows teachers to take their pupils on VR field trips around the world, through the Google Cardboard viewer. Now, with an update to the tool, pupils can go on self-guided tours, allowing more scope for homework projects and non-class based activities.

Google has released over 600 expeditions in the tool, including the Seven Modern Wonders of the World and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. It is accessed within the same app for the teachers and students, with the ability to change between the two. You just need to download and install the app on all the devices you want to use in the class environment.

The 360 degrees photospheres can take pupils inside an active volcano for geography lessons or travel back in time to visit the famous Mary Rose warship for history, to name just a couple of examples.

Cardboard Camera

Encourage creativity in your pupils by allowing them to shoot their own VR photos or tours for Google Cardboard. The principal difference between normal photos and VR photography is the smart software deployed to recreate a stereoscopic effect, and the additional audio recorded at the time of shooting. While it may be simple to execute, the results are immersive and exciting.

Get your pupils to record a virtual tour of a school or a real field trip, or ask them to choose their favourite locations to shoot. Students can write descriptions for the settings and record audio to educate others on their chosen places, and share with other classes.

Virtual Reality, then, with a little bit of creativity and a small amount of advanced planning, is a simple but underused edtech channel for teaching subjects that are not traditionally tech-focused. Not only can VR bring locations to life, give pupils the chance to see moments in history through their own eyes, it can also encourage artistic, photography and self-ownership skills when tasked with creating their own projects. Best of all, using Google Cardboard, VR is inexpensive and accessible to anyone. Read more edtech insights in The State of Technology in Education report 2017/18.