Field trips are a fantastic element of education that can give students an opportunity to leave the classroom and observe something up close. They’re also a logistical nightmare, from permission slips to transportation to scheduling to lunch planning.
Thanks to a new project from Google, however, your students can go on a field trip across the world without ever leaving their desks — all with the help of smartphones and a little cardboard.
The Google Expeditions Pioneer Program aims to provide a classroom-oriented virtual reality platform “to create more than 100 engaging journeys — making it easy to immerse students in entirely new experiences.”
Expeditions are effectively guided digital tours of places students can’t visit on normal buses. A guide or their teacher use a tablet to guide their class through panoramic views of other cities, remote underwater locals or even distant planets while students look on through special “visors” — made up of smartphones in cardboard viewers. The tours include highlights, pointers and pop-out notes that elaborate on buildings, creatures or other sites.
The New York Times covered one such Expedition, in which Jennie Choi “took” her sixth graders to Verona, Italy for a unit on Shakespeare without leaving their classroom in Chicago’s Mariona Azuela Elementary School.
“It doesn’t work to stand in a class of 12-year-olds and just lecture,” said Ms. Choi, explaining that many students already had access to devices like smartphones, laptops and gaming systems and thus were accustomed to obtaining information immediately and visually. So Ms. Choi jumped at Google’s offer to collaborate on a virtual excursion to Verona for her students. “I think they gained a deeper understanding of the story,” Ms. Choi said.
The Google team is currently bringing the project to spots in California, Illinois, the Connecticut/New Jersey/New York State area, New York City and Texas. More are coming.
The project has generated a lot of buzz in the media and education world, but it’s just one recent example of how mobile technology like smartphones and tablets can reshape and rejuvenate the way instructors teach their students in K-12 and beyond.
And with eBooks and other digital supplemental materials that can bring students' texts to live with embedded videos, graphical charts and more, the time to view these as entertainment devices and classroom distractions has long passed. Has your school or program embraced mobile learning?