Google Virtual-Reality System Aims to Enliven Education

28 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Google Brings ‘Expedition’ To Schools, A VR Cardboard-based App To Create Synchronized Virtual School Trips.

As part of a class last year on “Romeo and Juliet,” Jennie Choi, an English teacher at Mariano Azuela Elementary School in Chicago, took her sixth-grade students on a tour of Verona, the Italian city where Shakespeare’s play transpires.Earlier this year at its I/O developer conference, Google announced ‘Expeditions,’ an app that lets teachers create synchronized virtual school trips using the company’s Cardboard virtual reality viewer.Google is today introducing the Expeditions Pioneer Program, a new initiative to help teachers and students use virtual reality in schools around the world. The tech giant will begin helping teachers use Google Cardboard, the company’s ultra-cheap virtual reality headsets, to take students on virtual tours to far-flung places.

Choi asked her class to examine the variegated facade of a centuries-old building, known on tourist maps as “Juliet’s House,” where the family that may have been the inspiration for the fictional heroine once lived. Starting Monday, schools can apply for a visit from a Google team that will provide kits including Cardboard units for each student, a tablet for teachers and a specialized router.

That’s at least the dream behind Google Expeditions, a 10-month-old project from the search giant that gives teachers virtual reality tools to teleport students to some of the most intriguing destinations on this planet and others. Beginning Monday, the Mountain View, Calif.-based company will begin visiting thousands of schools in six states as well as in Australia, England and Brazil.

Google developed the educational content in partnership with organizations like PBS, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the Planetary Society, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and The Starfish Foundation. Google has yet to say whether it has sales expectations with the program, specifically with regard to the unique teacher-focused content of the VR adventures. “Honestly, we haven’t gotten that far yet,” says Ben Schrom, product manager for Expeditions. “Classrooms are unique environments, especially when it comes to putting technology in them. In case you’re wondering how much educational material is out there for Cardboard and View-Master headsets, well, it turns out that some is available. “Teachers can choose from a library of more than a hundred virtual trips to transport students to places like Mars, the Great Barrier Reef and the Great Wall of China,” Quaid wrote.

Choi’s students tried out virtual-reality viewers — composed of cardboard and a cellphone — while their teacher used an app to guide them through stereoscopic vistas of the Italian town. “It doesn’t work to stand in a class of 12-year-olds and just lecture,” said Ms. Choi, explaining that many students already had access to devices like smartphones, laptops and gaming systems and thus were accustomed to obtaining information immediately and visually. Choi jumped at Google’s offer to collaborate on a virtual excursion to Verona for her students. “I think they gained a deeper understanding of the story,” Ms. You’ll get to keep your current user name (as long as it doesn’t contain invalid characters, in which case you’ll have to go through a few extra steps to make the transfer), and all your old comments will eventually (not immediately) migrate with you.

Stereoscopic content displayed in a horizontal mode comes to live in two and three dimensions when using such basic phone holders, and represents an inexpensive way to access such media when compared to devices such as Samsung VR and the forthcoming and very pricey Oculus Rift VR goggles. The kits that Google is providing schools that will sign up for the Expeditions program include everything a teacher would need for a complete VR experience for his/her students. The introduction of Google’s virtual-reality kits for classrooms highlights the growing importance of the education sector to major technology companies — and the mounting competition among them.

In 2006, for instance, Google introduced Apps for Education, a bundle of cloud-based email, calendar and document-sharing products available free to schools. But increasingly the Expeditions will feature 3-D video created by Google’s new Jump camera rig, which is a GoPro-produced product that holds 16 GoPro cameras all shooting at once, footage that Google then stitches into 3-D video that appears incredibly life-like. “I was in a ninth grade classroom recently and watched as the kids were able to really compare the architecture of the Duomo in Florence and the Pantheon in Rome,” says Expeditions program manager Jen Holland. “The teacher had come prepared to talk about this with some black and white photos she had printed out. Some leading tech companies have recently made a decision to focus on designing products specifically for classroom use, rather than simply modifying their existing consumer or enterprise products and then marketing them to schools. The company is also using a 16-camera system, built by GoPro, to create three-dimensional images for the virtual excursions. “I would certainly see a scenario where we sell these kits to schools,” Mr.

Schrom said. “It depends on how successful we are at driving the costs down to an accessible place.” The Google kits available to schools contain the company’s cardboard viewers along with Asus smartphones to be used as virtual field-trip screens for students. It takes students to the former headquarters of Lehman Brothers and the offices of Goldman Sachs and federal regulators involved in the fiscal crisis of 2007-8. But he said he wanted to visually immerse his class in places that played important roles in the crisis to give them a more concrete feel for the potential impact of fiscal and monetary policies.

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