Educators and their students can now be part of a beta program to create their own Google Expeditions virtual reality experiences. The opportunity was unveiled this week at Bett, the world’s largest educational technology show here.
Classes enrolled in what Google calls its “pioneer program” will be able to create their own immersive virtual experiences with a 360-degree camera and the Google app.
Many schools around the world already use Google Expeditions on mobile devices in virtual reality viewers to give students virtual field trip experiences, from swimming through coral reefs to exploring Machu Picchu, from visiting Antarctica to soaring with the International Space Station.
Making a virtual reality “world” for the first time has been designed to be easy, said Jennifer Holland, the lead program manager for Expeditions and G Suite for Education. “If you know how to type, you’re good to go.”
Users would simply take a 360-degree image, upload it to the Google app, then annotate the panorama by adding 2-dimensional pictures, descriptions, and videos to explain the experience. Their self-made expeditions would be experienced on mobile phones set in virtual-reality viewers.
A “create your own” experience “is the top feature that teachers and students wanted in Google Expeditions,” said Holland. The students can collaborate on and share one another’s creations.
“We picked the theme, ‘Love Where You Live,’ because we thought it’s important to communicate in these times and could lead to a better understanding of the world,” said Holland, a former teacher who has worked for Google for the past 10 years. “We want to empower students to be the ‘change makers’ in their community.”
For the beta program, educators who already use a 360-degree camera at school will be given access to the tools and instructions on how to create their own expeditions. Google will loan 360-degree cameras for the duration of the beta to schools that don’t have cameras, she said.
Augmented Reality ‘Pioneer Program’
Google Expeditions is also running a “pioneer program” for an augmented reality experience. Information about that was released on its blog earlier.
“Expeditions AR uses Google’s AR technology to map the physical classroom and placed 3D objects. Students can walk all around the objects, get in close to spot details, and step back to see the full picture,” according to the blog.
This technology uses Google’s AR app on a mobile device that is set on a selfie stick. Walking around with the AR device, then raising and lowering it, gives the sensation of moving around the object. For instance, students can “fly over” a tornado that has been “placed” in their classroom, or explore the spiraling DNA strand in a gene that is superimposed in their space.
Launching ‘Create Your Own’
Holland said Google has worked with teachers to build lessons on how to get started on the “Create Your Own” expeditions and ideas for incorporating them into a classroom’s day.
“Can you imagine creating a series of expeditions around your state for 4th-grade students” who often are assigned a project about their state, she said. Or a group project to show before-and-after in a science experiment.
To use Google Expeditions in schools, Holland said you need mobile phones and VR viewers.
“We have lots of hardware partners selling Expedition kits,” she said, indicating partners on the Bett show floor, although schools can also build their own, as described on Google’s site.
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