Google Cardboard: Good, but not perfect!
Google Cardboard is a cheap Virtual Reality solution that operates with many 3d immersive applications, most of which are available through Smartphones. I reviewed a number of these applications with my class to get a feel for the technology and to try to assess how this could be used more successfully in the classroom.
First, I used the NYTimes Op-Docs application, which is set up easily by entering your phone number; this then sends a small link to your phone which sets up the application. The application itself looks like a multimedia version of a newspaper, with various video article experiences on assorted topics.
The first experience I chose was entitled “Notes on Blindness” which is described as such: After he went blind, John Hull used sound to rediscover our rich sensory universe.” I had trouble seeing some of the text and it was hard to align and keep on my face, although at least some of these issues were part of the “blindness” experience. Also, light seemed to drown out a lot of the definition of the picture. A better viewer with appropriate adjustment and size controls might help to alleviate this issues. The video consists of a “blind man” experience where you can view a dim, neon lit image of a field with a few massive trees in the background. The narrator speaks to you and explains how sound and dim images help assist the blind in basic everyday tasks of movement and identification. It was certainly an immersive experience, and emulated the experience of blindness in an illuminating fashion, although the cardboard technology itself did not permit me to enjoy it fully.
Next, I watched “Policing in Flint“: a video detailing the everyday experiences of police officers in a depressed American industrial town. The experience is kind of like a documentary. It starts out with the customary title scenes. Once again, I had trouble with the lighting. The first shot is intentionally dark to show the struggles of police officers trying to identify and analyze difficult situations, however, I could make out very little in the image to navigate the initial scenes. I turned up the brightness of my Iphone and it helped a bit. The video follows police officers as they traverse the dangerous territory of Flint. Both of these experiences were great in their ability to transport the student to a foreign location, as well as in their ability to experience someone else’s reality.
Finally, I watched “Meditation Journeys: Meditate by the Ocean:”. This video was the most successful, because it utilized bright colors and scenery of the ocean. It was easy and relaxing to watch and you can look at a full panoramic of the scene given. It also includes narration by an expert at meditation, as he gives you tips and tricks on how to relax to the fullest extent.
I also tired Ditchthattextbook.com, which is a teacher oriented site that gives suggestions on how to use Google Cardboard technology. This was a lot more successful experience. I tried 3 applications.
1)Go on a Virtual Field Trip with Google Expeditions – I tried Macchu Piccu and the International Space Station. These site can be explore by moving your head to view the sites in panoramic detail.
2)Walk the Streets – This is basically an extension of Google Maps, but it was also easily my favorite application. I am a map/travel junkie and I constantly look at maps and study distances between various locations. I tried some of my favorite cities that I had visited before, and the experience was just as immersive as being there. I tried a “bar crawl” moving between places that I was familiar with. At times it was hard to control, but the basic experience was immersive and enlightening. I could see this being useful in a classroom that requires a visual element to history, geography, or storytelling.
3)Go on Adventures with Discovery Channel – I tried swimming with sharks, as well as a “survivor” scenario. The app is parallel to the experiences that are portrayed on Discovery Channel shows. At times, it seemed like it was just an immersive video, but in other instances the app really gave the feeling of being part of the experience.
While these applications for Google Cardboard were useful, the best apps were these last 3 that used the technology as a controlled simulator for exploration. Hopefully, as the technology improves so will the imaginative input and methods that display the possibilities of this important, immersive experience.
How I Use It
Students were allowed to explore Google Cardboard through choosing from a list of available applications. They were then asked to present their experience to the class.