flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

I will never forget Jim Sill’s keynote from my first GAFESummit. In it he showed a video of the virtual field trip. Through the use of Google Glass, a class of students was taken inside CERN, the home of the Hadron Collider, in Switzerland. They were given a first hand view of the inner mechanics and provided with an adaptive running commentary the whole time.

This video was about asking the question, what if we could overcome the challenge of access and availability by bringing a field trip into the classroom? Making it possible to venture around the world (or even universe) and walk the streets of Paris or visit the Great Wall of China. Does this constitute the next best thing to being there or is it something else again?

I had a similar such experience recently when I tried Google Expedition for the first time at Melbourne West GAFESummit. A combination of Classroom, Cardboard, Street View and Photosphere, Expedition provides viewers with a choreographed 360 degree experience. It involves a collection of Cardboard devices connected to a central tablet via a network connection. It does not require the internet. Featuring everying from the Mars to the Great Barrier Reef to the Seven Wonders of the World, the app takes the viewers on a journey, providing a prescribed commentary for the teacher to present all along. It provides the means for the teacher-as-guide to focus attention on something by circling on the screen, rather than have the class lost in the experience.

As I moved through the different experiences, I was left wondering about the different possibilities associated with Expedition and Cardboard in general. Here are just some of my ideas:

  • Vocabulary – Robert Marzano suggests the best way to build academic vocabulary is through real life experiences, such as field trips, but then says that this is not always feasible. I wonder if Expedition and Cardboard make this more possible? The opportunity to move around in a foreign space and build up vocabulary at the same time? And what about EAL/D students and newly arrived migrants. Not only could we introduce them to new places, but they too could share a part of their world by taking us back to where they may have travelled from. A priceless experience when building empathy.
  • Real Life Problems – Sitting above the Taj Mahal provides an opportunity to explore the subjects of culture and engineering first hand. Or while climbing El Captan in Yosemite National Park, we can discuss why the only thing growing on the cliff face is a cactus.
  • Narrative and Storytelling – Although Expedition comes with a prescribed script, what interests me is the ability to write your own story as you go along. It provides the means to make predictions and provide explanations about what might be happening. Taking this a step further, I am intrigued by the possibility of students being the guide, providing am opportunity to really develop their speaking and listening skills.
  • Sparking Curiosity – Building on the idea of narrative, I see the possibility for students to ask questions and really drive their own inquiry.

Having said all this, I was left thinking about where such technology might develop in the future. Would this be our only view of places like the Great Barrier Reef or ancient monuments destroyed in cultural upheaval (see giant Buddha statues of Bamiyan in Afghanistan.) Would it be possible to recreate the same place, but in the past, so when we stand at Circular Quay in Sydney we can appreciate how much such a space has been transformed over time. It all makes you wonder, but in the end, the success of such applications is not in their wonder and awe, but rather than opportunities that teachers allow to happen. Such opportunities are further opened up with the option for solo expeditions. As Rachel Jones states,

Google Cardboard is a fantastic hook for learning. I think that children in both primary and secondary settings would find using the glasses an engaging way of encountering a topic – but for me the real potential for success lies in the learning that would take place after the viewers have been used.

So what about you? What have been your experiences with Expedition and Cardboard? What do you see as it’s future? As always, comments welcome.

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An Expedition into @GoogleCardboard by Aaron Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

15 thoughts on “An Expedition into @GoogleCardboard

  1. At the moment we are fixing up our wireless connections and updating our iPads and equipment … I am looking forward to investigating google classroom things with the kids and can see so many ways to use the virtual reality tools.

  2. The places we could all go and the things we could all see with those google glasses!! Take the glasses on holidays and allow family members overseas who can no longer take long plane trips to see what we are seeing – bring expensive excursions into the classroom.. the possibilities are endless

  3. Daniel Pollack-Pelzner reflects on the pivot of plays online. He explains how such mediated experiences are different from the feeling of being their in the theatre.

    As the performance scholar Sarah Bay-Cheng points out, “mediated theatre” that’s edited for a screen offers a very different sense of space, movement, and time than an in-person performance. Eight or so cameras get positioned around the theater, and there are two camera rehearsals before the broadcast. The show is recorded in a single take in front of an audience and broadcast live that night to movie theaters, with some delay for audiences in different time zones.

    Speaking from a US perspective, Pollack-Pelzner also situates such broadcast from the perspective of the literacy canon and colonialism, suggesting that there is something to be said about the particular choices chosen to be broadcast.

    broadcasts also reinforce a sense of the U.K. as the center of civilization, and cinematic outposts around the world as its fringes, a message reinforced by the particular plays NT Live chooses for export. Although the theater has, in recent years, become much more supportive of diverse artists, the broadcasts for NT at Home come straight out of the Victorian canon, a series of Shakespeare and 19th-century-novel adaptations: Twelfth Night, Antony and Cleopatra, Frankenstein, Jane Eyre, Treasure Island. What the National sends out under its banner, “the best of British theatre,” is more or less the same culture that the British empire used to enforce Englishness around the world a century and a half ago. London is still the metropole; I’m still regarding it fondly from a colonial outpost. It’s the very coziness, the domesticity, of NT at Home that makes its imperial echoes both so pervasive and so hard to hear.

    This can be understood as being a part of a wider push back on the limits of streaming. Although there is a plethora of content available, whether it be museums, zoos or concerts, there has been a growing sense of push-back. For example, Chris DeVille argues that musical performances are often underwhelming:

    Livestreams suck. Livestreams have always sucked. There are exceptions — when your favorite artist logs on, when something incredibly charming and unexpected happens — but in general, watching musicians perform onscreen from home is underwhelming and sometimes depressing. By necessity, the format has become a mainstay of the music industry during the coronavirus pandemic, which has only underlined how much the format sucks. There’s a reason the streamed concert platform StageIt was in dire financial peril before COVID-19 struck and why the world’s best and most popular musical artists didn’t typically lower themselves to the level of YouTube struggle-folkies until they had to. Under normal circumstances, when the live concert experience is available and people can safely leave their homes, livestreams are clearly an inferior alternative. They suck.

    While Peter Schjeldahl reflects on the mark virtual tours of galleries will leave on us, accompanying us spectrally.

    Online “virtual tours” add insult to injury, in my view, as strictly spectacular, amorphous disembodiments of aesthetic experience. Inaccessible, the works conjure in the imagination a significance that we have taken for granted. Purely by existing, they stir associations and precipitate meanings that may resonate in this plague time.

    In the end, I am reminded of something that Audrey Watters‘ wrote a few years ago about virtual tours.

    Virtual field trips are not field trips. Oh sure, they might provide educational content. They might, as Google’s newly unveiled “Expeditions” cardboard VR tool promises, boast “360° photo spheres, 3D images and video, ambient sounds — annotated with details, points of interest and questions that make them easy to integrate into curriculum already used in schools.” But virtual field trips do not offer physical context; they do not offer social context. Despite invoking the adjective “immersive,” they most definitely are not.

    Maybe the current crisis is not one of equity, it is still something to stop and consider I guess.

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