I first tried out Google Cardboard last Fall when I was hanging with the very awesome Amber Klebanoff at a conference. The moment I held it up to my eyes I had the same reaction that all first timers do - An awed, enthusiastic howl of “WOAH! THIS IS INCREDIBLE!” Accompanied by spinning in slow circles to take in the full 360 view. I explored the pyramids at Giza, a Billy Joel concert, and then nearly threw up on a roller coaster! I was completely enamored with the tool and bought my very own Google Cardboard less than an hour later. I wasn’t exactly sure how or when I’d use it, but I knew that I wanted my students to have that same experience as I did. I knew it would be a powerful tool for making learning about history a truly tangible and interactive experience. And then Google called…
I am incredibly fortunate to work in a district that has a strong working relationship with Google Apps for Education, which has afforded me the opportunity to take part in pilots for various Google products over the past year. The coolest pilot I have been a part of, by far, was Google Expeditions. If you haven’t heard all the recent buzz on Expeditions, it is a virtual reality field trip that ‘takes you places a school bus can’t.’ The best comparison I have found is to compare Google Cardboard and Expeditions to everyone’s favorite 80s toy, the ViewMaster.
In February of 2015 a handful of colleagues and I got to go to the NYC Google Headquarters where we were introduced to the concept of Google Expeditions. We had the privilege of working with the fabulous Jen Holland throughout this project, in addition to lots of absolutely brilliant and talented Google Engineers. They listened to our feedback and communicated with us throughout the experience. Before signing onto any pilot, we are required to sign a nondisclosure agreement, as were my students, but now that the product is out here’s a behind the scenes look at what went into creating Expeditions from the teacher perspective:
- “Choose a topic you will be teaching about in the next few months. You will be designing a virtual reality field trip around it.” I chose to make an Expedition about the Middle Ages/Renaissance architecture in Europe.
- Using Google Slides we compiled panoramic photospheric images for the various points of interest we wanted to include on the virtual field trips. In all honesty, it was very difficult to find good imagery for the things we wanted to show, which was really the only tough part about this entire experience.
- A note about this: As teachers, many of us are used to working within specific parameters and following certain established rules. The culture of Google is very different than the culture of your traditional classroom - Something I have grown to highly respect and admire. Google’s ‘fail often and fail fast’ motto lent itself to directions being intentionally vague in hopes that we would create products that were truly authentic and genuine.
- Next, we finalized our presentations and provided summaries of each destination on our Expeditions. This is what you’ll see when you are on the teacher/guide side of Expeditions. When holding the tablet to lead an Expedition, if you tap on the tab on the right side of the screen you have access in depth information and scaffolded questions to pose to your audience. This feature makes the tool content area agnostic so that a world language teacher can potentially lead an Expedition on Biology, for example. After this step, it was time for the engineers to work their magic!
- I’m not sure how long it actually took the Google engineers to ‘make’ the Expeditions so that they were pilot-ready, but it felt Easy Bake Oven-esque in that we shared our slide decks and the engineers turned them into this magical product that had the power of capturing 100% of the attention of every single person that put it up to their eyes for the very first time.
Stay tuned for the second part of the Google Expeditions journey in which Google came into my classroom and tested Expeditions with my awesome Special Education students!