Friday, July 01, 2016

Virtual Reality in the Classroom

This post originally appeared on my Discovery Education blog, Kathy's Kathy, in April of 2016. 

We hear a lot of talk about the use of augmented and virtual reality in the classroom to support teaching and learning. Here is a simple explanation showcasing the difference between them.

Augmented Reality
One way to experiment with and learn more about  augmented reality is with the use of the iPad and the app Quiver (previously known as colAR Mix). This app includes design pages to print out and color, and then, when viewing the page through the iPad app, the page “comes to life” and is interactive, as seen below. In addition, students can even record the interactivity as seen in the video below. 


Virtual Reality
To learn more about virtual reality, the use of Google Cardboard is a great way to start. Although the definition above of virtual reality includes the words “alternate world”, I like to describe it as immersion into another place or space.
As an early adopter of  new technologies, I have assembled and experimented with a Google Cardboard device since 2014. For those of you not familiar with the Google Cardboard technology and what it can do, it is really quite simple to get started. You need three things. First, you need a smartphone. Second, you need a Google Cardboard-certified viewer. The smartphone is housed in the viewer and the viewer includes two lenses that focus on the smartphone screen.
Some Cardboard-certified viewers I own include:

And thirdly, using an app on a smartphone, you simply load a VR image, game, or movie that shows up on the cell phone screen looking something like this. You then place the smartphone in the Google Cardboard viewer.

When you view a 360° spherical panoramic image with Cardboard viewer, you are able to move your head up and down, turn your body around, and view a 360° aspect of the image, as if you were standing where the image was taken.
To get a feel for this without Google Cardboard, there are now Web sites that allow you to use your mouse or finger to move a spherical panoramic image to interact with a 360° view. It is not as immersive as looking through a Google Cardboard device, but click on this URL and use your mouse to move the image left, right, up and down to get a tour of my geodesic dome home!
There are are also Web sites and smartphone apps that allow the viewer to both manipulate a 360° image (like above)  as well as view the same image using a Google Cardboard device for an immersive experience. Using your smartphone, download the app for iOS or Android, search on “Cape Cod Houses” and, when you see the full image of the interior of my house on your smartphone screen, you will also, for a short second, see a little Google Cardboard icon. If you miss the icon, which fades away quickly, just lightly tap your smartphone screen to make it appear again, and then tap the icon. You will see the split view of image, and can load your phone into your Cardboard viewer, and now have an immersive tour of my home!

In addition to static images, Google Cardboard allows you to be immersed in a video, as if you were there. You can move away from the view of the camera to look around at anything you want! Discovery has begun to create virtual reality experiences and tours through their Discovery VR project. In this project, you can view videos in 360° through your computer Web browser or via the Discovery VR app for iOS,Android. In addition, using the same app, you can be immersed in the video via a Google Cardboard device or Gear VR.

I cannot show you the immersive view I see when using Cardboard to view the video, but below is a short movie shot in the the app as I moved from viewing the video in 360° and then viewing it in the way Cardboard needs to see it.


The Discovery VR site  includes many great videos and tours, which include the videos below and others in the areas of extinction, extreme sports, a visit to Austin, and more. With a Google Cardboard headset, students can experience these events as if they were there! And, without a headset, they can interact with the videos and control what items they are viewing.

Creating virtual reality tours
Virtual reality is an engaging way to experience something that you can’t do in real life because you aren’t at the site, don’t like rollercoasters in real-life, or have no desire to really swim with the sharks!
However, the exciting thing about this new technology is your students can easily create their own virtual reality tours to share with the world!  I have just started doing this in the last month, and have created 360° spherical panoramic images and and few videos that others can view with a Web browser or via a Google Cardboard headset. You can see a few of them here. I also discovered, when uploading my VR images to Google Photos, they become interactive when clicked on in a Web browser or in the Google Photos app. Check it out!
The start-up cost is under $400 (in addition to having a smartphone) and I guarantee you and your students will find it as fun and educational to create these images and videos as I do!
My VR toolkit includes:
An iPhone 6s+, the Ricoh Theta S camera, the View-Master VR Starter Pack, aSmatree tripod, and a Promaster SystemPRO TB1 tripod bag (not pictured).

The use of this technology to support teaching and learning, both by embedding videos such as those in Discovery VR to enhance the curriculum or by students creating their own VR images and videos, is starting to be used in classrooms across the world. I add links to my augmented and virtual reality page as I find new information, apps, successful practices, and tutorials, so please visit often!
Have you used Discovery VR in your classroom yet? How about Google Cardboard devices? Have your students created 360° images that others can view? Please share your experiences and ideas with the rest of us!