Expeditions: Traveling in Three Dimensions Without Leaving the Classroom

Submitted 6 years ago
Laurie S.
Laurie S.
Elementary Science Specialist
My Rating

My Take

As a teaching tool, the VR goggle app "Expeditions" can illustrate physical places in ways that are just not possible with a description or a flat photo - or even a traditional video. All of those things give students a window on that piece of the world, but the VR Expeditions allow students to actually feel part of that place as if they are physically in it. Expeditions can be mini-field trips without having to order a bus, arrange for parent chaperones, or have bake sales to raise travel funds. Expeditions are a great way for students to explore places that they may not be able to access any other way within their lifetime. Some overlap current and historical references within the same experience, which are often years apart in time.

I see this as an amazing addition to a school's repertoire of assets for assisting the conveyance of concepts and information to students. In and of themselves, the Expeditions in virtual reality are not beefy enough to be stand-alone lessons, but as an enhancement piece, they are amazing. They hold student interest and create a buzz. Students have a very realistic visual on which they can attach their other learning, and the visual piece will have a great impact on embedding it all in their memories. Some of the Expeditions can be used to point students to their futures - there are college and university tours as well as explorations of a variety of professions. There are applications to history, science, music, and art. This program will only grow with time, and become stronger as teachers add more and more of their own lesson designs to share.

How I Use It

These are Virtual Reality experiences to be used with Google Goggles or VR cardboard viewers. The teacher controls where the kids "are" in the expedition and can point out specific things within a scene. Students can look around within the virtual scene.

I piloted this for our district in the elementary Science Labs using the Expeditions for the International Space Station, Sharks, Volcanoes, and Mt. Everest. Being the district "guinea pig", I experienced some glitches, but was SO excited on what this can potentially do for lessons. Being "inside" the space station gives a whole new understanding to the 3-dimensionality of living in space, and lets the students see what the actual size is. Experiencing being underwater with sharks lets students see how big a whale shark really is! You can't express dimensions in a flat photo, but with this VR app, you can let students experience the dimensions and spacial relationships between objects or locations.

A number of the Expeditions have links to potential lessons that correspond with the virtual world. There is a linking capability so that teachers can share their own lessons with others. The supported teaching points within the program allow a teacher to add factual data to the virtual experience, and to point out specific things. And every scene comes with a specific focus question at three different levels of thinking. The one addition I would like to see to the app is for a teacher to choose their own items within a scene to direct students to by using the same touch screen technology that runs the rest of the teacher portion.

In the elementary Science Lab, there was a HUGE interest among students, and they were 150% engaged. The teacher needs to expect a certain level of noise, as it is a pretty exciting experience for students, especially with their initial experience in the Virtual World. Having the teaching tablet allows the teacher to stop the video feed when necessary to regain focus, or to signal a quiet listening break in between scenes, or to discuss a particular aspect. It also allows, with its moving smileys, for the teacher to see where in the scene the students are looking, so the teacher can know how to direct discussion.

Since this is a visual experience. there is equality among students (unless visually impaired). All students can notice the environment and participate in discussion regardless of reading lexile. By having to describe to others, rather than just point (which doesn't work with goggles on!), students can become better in descriptive language and directions.

As students become more used to the virtual environments, teachers could extend the use of the Expeditions by having students write about the experience, practice careful observations, practice careful sketches or other artistic renderings of what they saw, or use the VR experience as an source of evidence to complement other lessons.

Personal experience in the elementary science lab:
1) I have different classes of students coming and going every 30-40 minutes, so the battery life of the devices used is a limiting factor - I was experiencing battery failure at about the 3 hour mark with continual use. It was really helpful when there was at least an hour break in between sets of students so the devices could recharge. And... sharing devices just isn't quite the same...

2) The set up time when everything was charged and working correctly with the wifi was in excess of 30 minutes. On two days when there were glitches, the time frame was more like an hour. This makes me wonder how much a regular classroom teacher could actually make use of the Expeditions, as setup on a regular basis is quite a time-sink. (Charging, installing the phones in the goggles, setting out gear for students, etc. is too time-consuming to be a regular part of a school day). This factor may be greatly reduced with older students who could manage the housekeeping chores with the devices themselves instead of the teacher having to set up and take down everything single-handedly. The same applies for glitches - with young students, I had to reset phones and apps myself, whereas a middle or high school student could easily make those adjustments without interrupting the flow of the class as a whole.

3) I found that any particular Expedition could take from 20 -40 minutes or even more, depending on what a teacher wants to do with it - but that most would need to be attached to regular curricular lessons in order for the Expeditions to have substantial meaning. Even with the Teacher Notes embedded, most need more 'meat' to be more than a novelty item, a general introduction, or an illustrative enhancement.

4) The Database of available Expeditions is alphabetical - which is only useful if you know the title you want, or if the topic you want happens to start with that name and not something different. It would be nice to have a searchable database accessible by title, but also by topic, subject, or grade level. I created my own spreadsheet sorted by subject and grade for use within our school district, but a fully searchable database would be much more teacher-friendly and less cumbersome. I expect that would be added at some point?

What worked:
1) I found that explaining and then turning on the Expedition for students allowed me to have their complete focus. When students know that the target meant they needed to find it, focus, then listen, I could use the program effectively. If their excitement level was too high for them to hear me, pausing the Expedition closed their view of it, and then they were quickly quiet and attentive so that they would be back to their 3-D world.

2) Knowing that there would be glitches took the pressure off. AND... the VR aspect is so cool that students are quite content to gawk around while I was fixing any particular phone (resets, error messages, battery power down, etc.) If I had extra goggles for a class, I would just switch out for a working set so the student could get back to looking while I fixed the glitchy one. If the class was full, then students were happy to share with a friend for a few minutes.

3) The goggles can make a few people feel motion-queazies, but a solution for that is to remove the phone from the goggles and switch the app from a binocular view to a single flat view. That way, a student could still move the phone around, but their brain was getting classroom environment input as well as the phone, so their stomachs settled.

What didn't work so well:
1) Battery life was frustrating, since I have students in and out of the lab all day long. I was using the goggles and app for multiple sets of students instead of just for a single use to supplement a single lesson. So - have a back-up plan, or figure out how to manage pair-shares or swapping sets between classes to allow for charging if you deal with multiple sets of classes.

2) There was a pretty consistent number of "Unfortunately, Google has stopped" messages - all it takes to remedy is to pop open the goggles and click the OK button on the message - but it is a disruption. With middle or high school students, they could easily be told how to take care of their own. With the younger students I have, I needed to take care of each case myself for the sake of preserving the devices.

3) Our set is intended to be a portable set to share between school sites. The "portability" is limited - the case is large and heavy, and is much more easily moved by two people than one. Having two or three smaller cases would have been a more realistic plan. Also, the need for charging the devices and installing phones into the goggles means that the sharing aspect requires time between available days of use for transport and charging. ( We are still looking for the most efficient means of working around this in our geographically large district.) Within a single classroom, this would not be much of an issue. Within a school, thought needs to be put into scheduling to work around the charging needs.

Food for thought: The goggle set will be on and off of many faces, and in and out of many hands. Consider a hand sanitizer dispenser and/or wiping down the goggles after each use - or at the end of a day, at least. Cardboard viewers wouldn't hold germs as easily as the plastic goggles, but also would not be as durable.