Virtual reality in the classroom

Teachers bring lessons to life as students experience trips to virtually anywhere

Google VR at The Cowplain School
Google VR at The Cowplain School

January 2017: Students from The Cowplain School in Waterlooville take part in the Expeditions Pioneer Program, the virtual reality teaching tool from Google.

Google Expeditions is a new product allowing teachers to take their classes on virtual field trips, immersing students in experiences which bring abstract concepts to life and give students a deeper understanding of the world beyond the classroom. Students can explore everywhere from the planet Mars, to the Great Barrier Reef and inside Buckingham Palace.

The Wildlife Conservation Society, the Public Broadcasting Service, the American Museum of Natural History, the Planetary Society and the Palace of Versailles helped to develop the content for the program which has been further tailored to the UK curriculum. The trips are collections of virtual reality panoramas - 360 degree photo spheres, 3D images, video and ambient sounds - annotated with details, points of interest and questions to make them easy to integrate into lessons.

Trips can even be taken inside the human body to explore the heart, lungs and blood vessels and to experience how oxygen-rich blood circulates around the body.

Whilst nothing replaces an actual field trip, Google Expeditions provides an opportunity for teachers to take students on a journey of discovery, supplementing learning using the latest technology. More experiences are being added to the collection which includes trips to the Great Wall of China, the Pyramids and the Amazon.

Students access the field trips with Google Cardboard, a virtual reality viewer made almost entirely of cardboard which houses a modern smartphone. More than 5 million of these VR viewers have been distributed since Google announced their release in 2014.

Once the teacher makes their trip selection on the Expeditions tablet, the entire class is transported to that virtual destination. Students can explore the location by moving their head around, up and down to see different aspects whilst the teacher acts as a guide and shares further information. Mrs Jodi Salsbury, Teacher of ICT and Head of Lower School, took Year 7 students to the Taj Mahal built in 1632; she explained why it was commissioned before showing students the mosque and mausoleum.

Whilst students were exploring Petra in southern Jordan, Mr Ian Gates, the Headteacher, told students about his visit to Al Khazneh, The Treasury at Petra, and shared his knowledge of the site.

Josh Baker, aged 11, said: "We have visited the Great Wall of China and also looked at a volcano. It's very good and it feels like you're actually there."

Sky Selway, also aged 11, added: "I like seeing the different places and I love how real it looks."

Glen from Google Expeditions made this a really enjoyable experience and The Cowplain School students were able to explore the Seven Wonders of the World and the Great Barrier Reef, learning about the destruction of the coral and the different types of sharks. Students from Years 8 and 10 looked at the Earth from space and experienced the life cycle of the Moon together with the craters on the surface.

Istvan Franczuz, aged 14 from Cowplain said: “It was really cool and got us thinking about the possibilities of VR and pushes the limits of what we know.”

Mrs Becky Connell, Head of Computing and ICT at The Cowplain School commented: “It was fantastic to have the opportunity to enhance our students’ learning in a new and exciting way. We had students looking at maths, media, languages and computing and all experienced things they had never seen before.”