Google Brings Virtual Reality to Schools With Expeditions Pioneer Program

column | Blended Learning

Google Brings Virtual Reality to Schools With Expeditions Pioneer Program

By Mary Jo Madda (Columnist)     Sep 28, 2015

Google Brings Virtual Reality to Schools With Expeditions Pioneer Program

Back at ISTE in June, Google’s expo hall space was flooded with educators hoping to try on a Google Expeditions headset--a virtual reality experience made out of a smartphone and Google Cardboard that takes the viewer to the likes of the Great Wall of China, Mars and underwater at the Great Barrier Reef. But there’s a key problem with implementing Google Expeditions in the classroom--no smartphone, no dice.

But now, Google hopes to fix that with the launch of the Expeditions Pioneer Program pilot.

Starting today, Google will provide “kits” to select teachers that includes everything a classroom needs to venture out on Google Expeditions. The kit includes:

  • ASUS smartphones
  • A tablet for the teacher to act as the tour director
  • An internet router, allowing Expeditions to run without an internet connection
  • Google Cardboard or View-Masters (a rebooted version of what many remember as this) to turn smartphones into virtual reality headsets

Along with the materials, Google offers its Google Expeditions software, which creates 360-degree views of major landmarks and locations by stitching together photographs from Google Street View, for free.

To kick off the program, Google will start by visiting schools in Australia, Brazil, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and eventually the United States. At each school, members of the Google team will show teachers how Expeditions works and set it up before class.

Will Google make the kits available to all schools? Not at the moment. The company encourages all interested parties to visit the Expeditions Pioneer Program site and apply to be considered by filling out an interest form here. The form invites both parties interested in piloting the program in their classroom and those interested in helping to create “an Expedition of my museum, landmark or other neat place.”

The question of whether the system will stay free is also up in the air. As the NY Times reports, while Google is currently offering Expeditions free to schools, the company may eventually charge for the systems.

“I would certainly see a scenario where we sell these kits to schools,” Ben Schrom, a product manager for Google Apps for Education, said last week. “It depends on how successful we are at driving the costs down to an accessible place.”

This isn’t the first time that Google for Education has offered to provide materials to schools in line with one of their initiatives. Back in 2014, Google’s CS First program, an endeavor to support computer science instruction in schools, launched with the offer of free curriculum and supplies (namely headphones and printed materials like certificates of completion) for educators who needed them. But unlike the CS First initiative, Expeditions Pioneer Program is designed to physically bring kits to classes, as opposed to shipping kits out to folks who request them.

CS First provides kits for a computer science curriculum for anyone who requests them to start up clubs on their own. The Expeditions Pioneer Program is a global pilot to put our kits for virtual reality field trips in the hands of teachers and students.

Curious to get involved in this virtual reality experience? Visit the Expeditions Pioneer Program site for more information.

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