Google Expeditions, a virtual reality system for the classroom, is now being offered to select schools for free as part of Google's pilot launch of its Expeditions Pioneer Program. The field trip simulation system is part of Google's objectives to advance its virtual reality technology further and make Google products an integral part of global education.
Through the Expeditions Pioneer Program Google offers free complete Expeditions kits to schools around the world including the UK, Brazil, New Zealand, Australia and the US. These schools will receive their Expeditions kits to start taking virtual education-focused trips around the globe in key locales of historical and socio-cultural importance. The kit includes ASUS smartphones, a teacher tablet for directing the field trip, an Internet router for accessing Expeditions without an Internet connection and Google Cardboard goggles for students.
Expeditions relies on Google Street View images to offer virtual field trips to users. Students can visit places such as museums, art galleries and take tours in historical locales such as the city of Verona, Italy.
So far 100 virtual-reality trips have been developed by Google and its education partners. Google describes these field trips as:
"[G]uided tours of places schools buses can't go. They are comprised of virtual reality panoramas and are led by a guide or teacherâ¦ Teachers can guide their class and point out highlights while referring to editable notes."
Each virtual reality tour can be experienced by 50 students at a time. Using a smartphone and the cardboard headset students are led through the virtual field trip by the teacher who guides them through âstereoscopic vistas'.
Jennie Choi, an English teacher at Mariano Azuela Elementary School in Chicago, took her students on a virtual reality field trip in the city of Verona. She says the learning experience is more efficient and appealing to students than a lecture.
"It doesn't work to stand in a class of 12-year-olds and just lecture. I think they gained a deeper understanding of the story," she said.
Nick Statt of the Verge writes that Expeditions is part of Google's effort to get a foothold in the classroom. The goal started almost ten years ago with Apps for Education, which aimed at offering free education technology to schools. Today, the Apps for Education bundle is used by 45 million students across the world who access its cloud-based email, calendar, document sharing and other apps.
Other online and technology players are showing continued interest in education. Facebook announced in August its goal of turning student personalized learning into free software in collaboration with California Summit Public Schools in the hopes it could be scaled up. Microsoft's Skype is already used in schools along with Windows 10 and Minecraft Education.
According to the official Expeditions Pioneer Program, the Expeditions team will help teachers set up these experiences for students. For the moment, the kit is available for free.
There is speculation, however, that the system might come with a charge, the New York Times writes.