This post was written by Andy Waters @peorbust.
For me, virtual reality has never really taken off, especially in education. It has always promised a lot and there are some fantastic isolated examples of how VR could be used but is yet to burst onto the education scene in a major way. I have used some very cool apps in an educational setting to try VR such Aurasma and Anatomy 4D. Both produce good VR experiences, with Aurasma I had a video of a model answer play when the iPad was placed over the exam question and with Anatomy 4D I found you could really get to grips with the various systems of the human body. But both only had specific times when they could be used. I really want something that I can use all the time and have it enhance what I am trying to teach the children.
Enter Google Cardboard
What is cardboard? Cardboard is a very cheap method of transforming your mobile device into a VR viewer. It brings “immersive experiences to everyone in a simple and affordable way.” It is not a VR device but a viewer that your mobile device sits in and allows you experience some really cool VR experiences. The most basic model can be printed off onto cardboard and following the simple instructions you can have a viewer ready in about 10 minutes. For those of you that want a more robust or professional feel to your VR experience many models are available for you to buy ranging from £10 to £100. You obviously get what you pay for but up to now I have had no issues with the ones that I have been using that I made “Blue Peter” stylie(!!) from the printed out sheets. Once you have your viewer you are ready to enter the VR world.
The Cardboard app
The Google cardboard app (available in both the Play store and the App Store) itself should be your first stop. It has several immersive demos that will allow you to see what cardboard can really bring to the table. The demos include a cardboard version of Google Earth and some interactive sessions where you can learn how to interactive with the world around you. It does feel slightly strange to begin with and anyone that gets motion sickness made need to take it slowly at first but once you get used to the controls and the motion you will be happy that you have persevered.
What are teachers using cardboard for?
The main application of cardboard at the moment seems to be virtual field trips with experiences available for children to take tours of places they might never get to see in real life and others to places that, at the moment, are impossible. This ranges from underwater reefs to the Great Wall of China and then all of the way to Mars! Children can explore new places and see things in more depth than they have ever been able to before. History classes can be transformed as you take the children on a tour of a castle rather than just reading about them. Science classes can explore atoms and molecules in a way never dreamed of before. And geography lessons should never be the same again! Imagine being able to go into a volcano and look around it rather than just seeing another picture in a book!
Google have called this aspect of Cardboard “Expeditions.” They are working with schools and teachers to provide students with unforgettable VR experiences. Teachers can control the VR experience from a tablet and make sure that all of the pupils see the same thing. Outside of the official app you can get a lot of other apps for cardboard use in the Playstore. These apps include games, tours, music videos and science walk throughs. It is still early days in terms of applications but imagine being able to teach a lesson on the electrical impulses in the heart whilst interacting with a beating heart and actually being able to see the electrical impulses right in front of you. Imagine seating in a Virtual lecture seeing experiments and being able to interact with them. Imagine being able to ski down a black route without the fear of seriously damaging yourself. Imagine being at that gig or that game and really feeling the atmosphere.
All of these will be possible sooner rather than later and to help this process along Google have also released “Jump” its camera rig and processing assembler for recording in 360 degrees. The rig is made up of 16 cameras in a circular array and the assembler’s a powerful piece of software that allows you to transform 16 pieces of video into a “Steroscopic” VR video. The results, as can be seen on youtube, are impressive. They are perfect 360 videos filmed in high resolution. Google claims the resolution is so good that it is like watching five 4K TV’s at the same time! This is obviously not a cheap setup but as prices come down and film makers and educational technologists get their hands on the kit we should start to see 360 immersive videos that will change the way we teach.
To finish this post I wanted to draw your attention to the new and much improved certification process for Google Apps for Education (GAFE). I have previously written about the former process which involved 5 one and a half hour exams that cost about £75. The certification process allows you to hone your GAFE skills and move towards that lifetime award of being a Google Innovator in education. The new certification is much more user friendly and much more interactive, you have to interact with the products as you take the unit reviews and then answer questions. The level one test is a 3 hour long test but now at a cost of £10. Having completed most of the older tests I can assure you that these new test are run in the same manner. They are about interacting with the GAFE products and test your understanding of the products but also on how to find information out. The training program provides you with examples of how the products are being used in education and these themselves were worth going through the training for.
I will update my training centre post once I have taken the new test and will report back on how I coped with the marathon 3 hour test!
As always, I welcome comments and feedback and look forward to hearing how you use VR in the classroom.