Monday, October 19, 2015

Google Cardboard- Virtual Reality in the Classroom

One of my sons trying out Google Cardboard
If you haven't tried Google Cardboard yet, you should. Google's virtual reality glasses are paired with their Cardboard app by the same name. Basically it's like adding a View-Master or old-fashioned stereoscope to your phone. The app takes images, Google Maps Street View photos, 360° panoramic images, and more and splits them into a right and a left image for your eyes, so as you look through the lenses in the cardboard goggles it creates a VR 3D-like environment where you feel much like you are there yourself. 

Source: Gadget Releases
I had my kids try out the Google Cardboard to as well as some other apps. They enjoyed it quite a bit. They walked around the Eiffel Tower, Venice, Jerusalem, London, New York, Rome, Mars, and even through the Great Barrier Reef. A few museums are loaded as well with some dinosaur skeletons, airplanes and the Space Shuttle. In each of these places, you are pretty limited to how far you can move around. In the museums, you basically can stand in the middle and turn 360°. They also tried out some of the free VR apps that have been developed for Cardboard, such as Skydive, Racetracks, Roller Coaster VR, and Crossy Road.

Source: GizMag
This whole technology seems to currently be in its infancy stages. 

There was nothing that kept their attention for too long. Some of the images are kind of grainy and that fuzziness may be hard to overcome. I read that some people experience a little bit of dizziness or nausea, but thankfully we did not. I can definitely see that it will be more engaging and attention grabbing as both the interaction within the images as well as the quality of the images improves. Google has released specs for its Jump 360° camera using 16 separate GoPros, as well as made video on YouTube available for VR, so that should help boost the content available. The goggles themselves are not high tech--the flimsy cardboard button/lever in our $12 Domo glasses didn't work, so we had to stick our finger in to touch the phone every time we wanted to walk forward or click. But this is a great design flaw for students to fix themselves, (see farther below). 

Update November 2015: We tried out six different models/brands of Google Cardboard. D-Scope Goggles with a magnet instead of the lever worked the best for us.

Source: Business Insider
In the classroom, I can see all sorts of opportunities for this tool. First, of course, is virtual field trips. Google currently is working on making Cardboard available in its Google Expeditions Program to a limited number of schools. You are already able to go to any place on earth that is covered in the Google Street View app, just look for the Cardboard icon as pictured. So the opportunity to take your class virtually to any place you were studying seems like a great way to make lessons more real. I suppose soon some morph between virtual reality and a Second Life-type avatar environment where you could see your classmates and your teacher in these locations will be arriving, too. A few years ago at the NSBA Conference, I tried on a pair of YouVist Goggles and toured a college campus which was very intriguing. There are endless possibilities for this type of technology.

Another classroom application I see is the construction of the cardboard goggles themselves. Why buy the pre-made kits when you could have each student design and build their own? Google supplies the specifications. It seems like a great project involving math, science, tech, art, and more. Students could add their own features as well as improve features and flaws like the flimsy lever I mentioned earlier. I'd also love to see a larger cardboard glasses that would allow students to use their iPad instead of their phone, too.
"Either way, we think Google's approach to VR is one of the most fascinating. Cardboard will eventually branch out into the kind of consumer gear that's on the horizon from Oculus and Sony, but there's something to be said for making the most dirt-cheap version possible, and using it in ways that can open future generations' eyes a little wider. Change the world first, make a hit product later." Source: GizMag
In a recent podcast I heard about Facebook's $2 billion investment in Oculus, which explained that there are big plans for VR technology in the video gaming industry. I see a lot of potential for this technology in education, too. It's great that Google has made this expensive technology so affordable and accessible for schools as quoted in the GizMag article above. It will be fun to see what developments take place over the next few years!

Related post: Google Expeditions Pioneer Program Visits Minnetonka Schools

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