So cool that students at @The_School got to pilot #GoogleExpeditions with @GoogleCardboard today!

The School at Columbia University was chosen to be one of the first schools to participate in the Google Expeditions Pioneers program! Today, Michaela Peterson (of the Google Apps for Education team) came to our school with 3 full class sets, each consisting of  30 Android phones in Google Cardboard cases, a Nexus tablet, and a dedicated router.

There was a lot of interest from faculty across grade levels and subject areas, therefore many students in our K-8 had a chance to explore a variety of Expeditions. Our schedule included tours of: Biomes, Tour of Mexico, 5 Point, Great Barrier Reef, Pow Wow Celebrations, National Parks, Burj Khalifa, Angkor, The London Eye, US Monuments, Sharks, Academy of Sciences in SF, Roman Ruins, and more!

Earlier in the week, I had an opportunity to meet with my colleagues and prep them in advance of today’s visit from Google. I just reiterated that I think it’s awesome we had a chance to explore Google Expeditions and think of ways to use them in academic, creative, and responsible ways. I also encouraged having conversations with students about the actual Expedition and also how/why Virtual Reality experiences could be useful. It was awesome to be in many different classrooms today and listen to the dialogue of teachers and students as they enthusiastically toured national and international locations via the app. After students in a 4th grade classroom explored Redwood National Park, their teacher asked, “How could using Expeditions help us with our writing?” I thought that was such a great moment. At the school, many of us use the language of beta testing and design thinking and often conjugate prototype, prototyped, prototyping, prototypers…

Unlike GoogleCardboard, the Expeditions app is not yet available, but it will hopefully be released by the end of the year and will be available to download on any mobile device. This was the #1 awesome thing I learned today, since the school happens to have class sets of iPads. Panorama apps and Google Street View have been around for years, but Expeditions offer a great way for teachers to harness this technology and curate a class learning experience using accessible Virtual Reality. From the teacher’s tablet, you can play and pause a class expedition, and there is some information accessible by swiping left in any scene through each expedition about its location/history/importance. You can also touch and hold on any scene to create a circle around any specific part of the image. This causes an arrow to show up on the students devices, so you are able to direct them to follow the area towards a specific point of interest and launch a discussion about it. This was my #2 awesome thing I learned today.

The cardboard kit can be purchased from different sources. You can buy it for $3 or $30 depending on your bargain hunting skills. Also, Michaela showed me how to double click the Android’s screen with two fingers to toggle between classic stereoscope dual screen view (to be used with Cardboard) and Magic Window view (which is a full size single screen to be viewed on any naked hand held device). This was the #3 awesome thing I learned today, as it means you can enjoy a 360-degree virtual tour by holding any device at arm length without having to strap your device into a case against your face! I’m all about avoiding retinal damage, seizures, and/or cancer.

Students and faculty offered the following input for Michaela:
1. Could there be moving images? (Michaela says this is a coming feature.)
2. Could there be audio? (Michaela said some Expeditions actually did already have ambient sounds, but our devices were set to mute.)
3. Could the Expeditions be voice activated?
4. Could there be a coordinate grid layered on the panorama for talking with authority about locations (like when playing Battleship) and for showing scale?
5. Could we upload our own panoramas?
6. Could there be a virtual mouse to reach out and touch things within the Expedition?
7. Could there be a game built in?

I love being part of a community of prototypers and beta testers. this was a great opportunity to try out something new and consider the educational possibilities.

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