In an article in THE Journal earlier this month, David Raths described the experiences – both real and virtual – of teachers and students using a new educational tool at a school near Philadelphia. Students, wearing smartphone-powered Google Cardboard virtual reality goggles, took virtual field trips to cities and natural wonders in the far corners of the world.
Google Expeditions is an app that offers virtual trips to a growing number of locations, for use in the classroom. Google has partnered with the American Museum of Natural History and other organizations to create the expeditions, and provides guidelines for adding Expeditions to the curriculum on their website.
The low-cost nature of Google cardboard, and the fact that (as most teachers can attest) students are rarely without their smartphones, means that Expeditions will have low barriers to entry in many school districts. It also lays the groundwork for more immersive experiences, as the price points of more sophisticated technologies continues to drop. More immersive experiences, sensor-filled classrooms that allow students to move through the space, and haptic feedback systems that allow students to feel the environment, will all enhance the authenticity of the experiences, building deeper connections with the content.
The ability to explore the Great Barrier Reef, the International Space Station, and even the surface of Mars offers an exciting new opportunity for teachers and students. As the technology and the applications evolve, it will be interesting to expand the scope of the field trips in time as well as space. Perhaps students will be able to travel to ancient Rome, or into the future to experience the effects of global warming 1,000 years from now. All of this, without leaving the classroom.