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Everything you need to know about virtual trips (but were afraid to ask)

 Google has curated an extensive collection of virtual reality experiences that enables pupils to take part in a school trip with a difference. We’ve already reported on how UK schools are using Google Expeditions to complement classroom learning, but for schools yet to sign up, this blog goes over some basics: what it is, how to access it and how to make the most of this unique learning resource.

What is Google Expeditions?

Google Expeditions is a free app (available on Android or iOS) which makes use of a series of curated virtual reality content experiences, which have been designed to complement the national curriculum.

The experiences cover a wide variety of topics and places, including many world-famous organisations and institutions such as London’s Natural History Museum, the Planetary Society and Sir David Attenborough’s production company.

When the app is used in the classroom with the aid of smartphones, a tablet and Google Cardboard viewers, the experience enables teachers to bring students on a series of virtual trips to museums, zoos, the ocean, back in time or to venture into outer space.

While Google Associates provide the hardware with the app already downloaded on the day, schools can use their existing tablets to view the app in full-screen mode if they would like a preview of the scenes on offer. To find out more click here.

Because the best way to learn about a place is to go there (you’re more likely to remember how the heart works by looking inside it) the experience allows pupils to immerse themselves and discover facts about the world, life and the universe in a unique way.

How can I request a visit from the Expeditions Team?

Google selects the schools it will visit from those that sign up to its Google Expeditions Pioneer Programme. The good news is that there is still time for schools to sign up for visits for the 2016/17 school year.

As well as teachers signing up their schools for Expeditions, other people can nominate a school (such as a parent or a local MP.) In these cases Google simply needs assurance from the school that it has given the tour its full backing.

A trip to the pyramids is just one of 400 Expeditions on offer

What does the set-up involve?

Google will supply the VR kits, which are on loan for the day and contain everything a teacher needs to run a virtual school trip, including a router (to ensure reliable Wi-Fi connection) smartphones, a tablet and VR Google Cardboard headsets.

The visiting Google Associates – many of whom have prior teaching experience – bring the kit and typically spend 20 minutes with the teachers beforehand, explaining how to use it. Because the pupils’ trip is more immersive than the guide leader’s, there is also an opportunity for the teacher to experience what the pupils will be viewing. 

While the Google Associates are on hand to offer tech support when it’s needed, it’s usually the teacher who leads the lesson.The kit comes with a pre-downloaded Expeditions app which presents users with the choice to view the experience in either ‘Explorer’ or ‘Guide’ mode. The teacher generally assumes the Guide role on a tablet while the pupils immerse themselves in the Explorer’s role with smartphones which slot into special headsets. Once in guide mode, the teacher can then select from over 400 experiences.

What do pupils see?

The Explorers slot the provided smartphones into the Google Cardboard viewers (a simple and effective binocular-like headgear which is made, as its name suggests, out of cardboard). Once the journey begins, pupils will see a 360-degree image and should feel totally immersed in the experience (with one teacher even reporting how his pupils’ legs lifted off the ground during a the trip to the moon!)

What do teachers see?

The Guide does not use the Cardboard viewer and will see a the static, 360-degree image on their tablet. They will be able to explore the scene in greater detail by swiping their finger across the screen. The Guide’s experience also comes with annotations, comprising of extra information, points of interest and age-appropriate questions which appear along the side of the screen.
Throughout the expedition, teachers are given the option of pointing out sites of interest – The Sphinx in the Egypt tour, for example – which show up in the pupils’ feed as little white arrows, highlighting exactly what they are talking about.
The teacher will even be able to count how many pupils have been listening to their tour as each pupil moves nearer to the arrow they appear on the guide’s screen in the form of little digital faces.
The Guide controls the pace and movement of the Expedition – they can pause it at any time – and Google recommends that there are regular 1-minute breaks between viewings to discuss various parts of the journey. Each expedition generally comprise of between 15-20 minutes of content.
To discover the breadth of content teachers can download the app on their own personal phones and school managed devices.

Teacher's view: The smiley faces represent pupils gravitating towards a site of interest 

What age group is Expeditions aimed at?

Both Primary and Secondary schools can take part in Expeditions. Teachers report that the older year groups have been particularly engaged and the Career Expeditions – which include profiles of software engineers, vets, London Underground staff and a metal artesian – all particularly apt for Secondary School pupils.

Each experience comes with beginner, intermediate and advanced questions, making it appropriate for a range of age groups. A starter question for pupils exploring the Great Barrier Reef asks how many different colored corals they can find. An intermediate question on the same subject asks why indigenous reef fish come in such vibrant colours; advanced Explorers are asked what type of symbiotic relationship algae has with coral.

Images: Google