Monday, August 29, 2016

Getting Started with Google Expeditions

If you are an educator who has been seeing some of the hype lately that surrounds virtual reality, you may be wondering how you can get started in the classroom.  There are several hurdles involved with getting a meaningful virtual reality experience up and running in the classroom; however, Google has graced us with a classroom VR tool that is fairly easy to use.

The first obstacle you might encounter to having VR in your classroom will be hardware.  

Thankfully, there are now a myriad of different cheap VR viewers available for purchase online.  I am not a huge fan of the cardboard viewers that are actually made out of cardboard, like anything else in my middle school classroom, if it can’t be wiped down with antibacterial wipes, I won’t touch it myself.  Instead, I would spend between $15-30 at the time of this posting to purchase a more robust plastic viewer from Amazon.  A quick search for cardboard viewer will yield many results, since most of the manufacturers are located in china a quick sort by consumer rating might be more beneficial than relying on the specific branding.  

If you can’t afford to purchase enough for the entire class, you could possibly focus on enough for a center of 5 students and rotate them through the activity.  If you are looking for an even more high fidelity experience, you could try the Gear VR.  The downside is that Gear VR only works with specific versions of the Galaxy handsets.  I should also point out that Samsung has a warning suggesting that kids be at least 13 years or older to use the Gear VR.

Once you have procured the necessary hardware, you are ready to get started with Google Expeditions.  

There is plenty of documentation on how to get this Google Expeditions up and running so I won’t spend much time on those details.  Suffice it to say that you will need a teacher “guide” device that will not be run in VR mode along with any students running the same app as “followers” who will have the more immersive experience of VR.  In my tests, I had no problems with my network and the devices finding each other.  One huge advantage is that the app will connect to a router and communicate with your devices even if there is no Internet connection present.  As long as the teacher “guide” device has downloaded the expedition that you plan on using, you should be fine.  This is a great workaround for some pesky school networks that don’t always play nice with personal devices.

The rest is pretty self explanatory.  I was able to talk my son into demoing the software with me.  He has played around quite a bit in VR and so has lost a little bit of the WOW factor when it comes to the technology but he still admitted that it would be awesome if he were able to use the app in school. Check out the video if you’re interested.  You can also check out my other post about creating your own video content for educational VR.