New Field Trips: Insight from Google Expeditions

Yong Hyun Kwon ’18

This talk by the Google Expeditions team focuses on the reasoning behind using VR for education and addresses practical issues the team has encountered during the first year following the launch of their educational VR product. Google Expeditions creates immersive VR experiences for Google Cardboard that allow students to discover various destinations, such as historical landmarks, the deep ocean, or the surface of Mars.

Students explore a virtual environment using Google Expeditions technology

The Google Expeditions team conceptualizes educational VR as a field trip that students would otherwise be unable to experience because of time, space, or safety reasons. They emphasize the power of experiential learning and spatial memory (for example, using the ‘mind palace’ memory technique uses spatial visualization to strengthen memory).  In a time when facts are easily accessible (via Internet search engines) but easily forgotten, enhancing traditional, fact-based teaching methods with memorable hands-on learning is becoming more important.  The team explains that the power of educational VR — immersion and interaction — facilitates this type of transformative experiential learning.

Practical issues the team has faced center on finding the best way to integrate the product into the classroom and preserve teacher-student interaction.  In order to help students remain attentive to teachers, the team created a pause button controlled by the teacher through the app, so teachers can draw attention at any given moment and help to explain the VR material. The product also allows teachers to track where students are looking in the VR environment, to promote teacher understanding of student engagement. The team tried to focus on facilitating group learning and ensuring that the design of the application is intuitive and easy to use in the classroom for both teachers and students.

The talk discusses interesting applications of the technology, including teaching language, helping people overcome phobias or letting adults practice in a virtual environment to gain public speech experience.  The team describes the success of Oregon Trail, an early educational game that allows children to walk in the shoes of North American pioneers and learn about the struggles they faced in searching for a new life.  Elementary school children adored this game, and through empathizing with the characters, they formed a lasting understand of the historical event.  The Google Expedition team believes that VR field trips have a similar ability to promote empathy, a key foundation of meaningful learning.

In designing the Gaspee experience, our group is working with the same principle of empathy-driven learning in mind.  Through witnessing the tension in the colonies, partaking in the burning of the Gaspee alongside the raiders, and feeling the sense of solidarity build in the aftermath (even as King George offers tempting sums to those who would betray the accused), students will come away with an intuitive understanding for the complexity and impact of the event.

Why were the Sons of Liberty willing to risk their lives in order to take down Lt. Dudingston?  How did the act of rebellion spark a revolution?  Do students see themselves or reflections of modern day events in the Gaspee Affair story?  The VR journey will take students back in time, fostering understanding through experiential learning that would otherwise be impossible – a new sort of field trip.

Source: VR in the Classroom: Early lessons learned from Google Expeditions – Google I/O 2016