By: Taylor R. Jones
Can you imagine visiting the bottom of the sea and the surface of Mars in one day? This has now become a marvelous reality thanks to Google’s Expeditions Pioneer Program.
The Expeditions Pioneer Program is a virtual reality platform built for the classroom and designed to incorporate with teacher lesson plans. Teachers guide students on 3D virtual tours of places that school buses cannot go.
When this program was first launched in September 2015, its availability was limited to certain cities within the United States and around the world. When Gina Wilson, Dobbs Elementary School’s Educational Technology Specialist, was first introduced to Google Expedition technology last summer, she helped convince Google officials to include Atlanta Public Schools in their beta testing protocol. Now, these guided virtual tours not only enhance the in-classroom learning experience, but these tours have also given teachers extra motivation.
“Our teachers are able to use this technology to take their students on a virtual field trip all over the world,” Wilson said. “Our teachers have taken this technology, embraced it, and now see the positive impact it has on student instruction.”
Google representatives have traveled all over metro Atlanta to bring APS teachers the essential tools they will need to feed the malleable minds of their elementary school students: ASUS smartphones, a tablet for the teacher, router and viewers that turn phones into virtual reality headsets, and Google Cardboard. APS sites such as Dobbs, Boyd, Hope-Hill, and Venetian Hills elementary schools received the opportunity to test Google’s virtual realities early. But Google’s Expeditions have even stimulated the interest of district S.T.E.M. teachers, as well.
APS’ Venetian Hills S.T.E.M. teacher, Nichole Jones, is absolutely elated about the excitement Google is bringing to her classrooms. Not only have these expeditions given her the opportunity to observe student’s growth in knowledge, skills, and attitudes first-hand, but they have also greatly motivated her with the strong sense of technology that is replacing how students learn and interact.
“The virtual field trip experiences that Google Expeditions provides has set an exciting precedent of the capability that technology has to bridge the gap between the classroom and the world,” Wilson said.
Now that beta testing is coming to an end, it will be up to APS schools whether or not to adopt this new form of classroom teaching. Again, Google will try to make that decision easier. By January 2016. Google announced that the Expeditions Pioneer Program will release an app for Android. This way, teachers and schools can easily access virtual experiences for their classrooms.