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Your Students Can Create Virtual Reality Experiences

By Janice Mak
March 1, 2016
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Virtual reality (VR) is gaining a foothold in schools thanks to a plethora of VR viewers under $20. And with more VR apps appearing constantly, immersive VR expeditions are becoming an accessible and engaging way for students to explore everything from historical landmarks and distant planets to oceanic locations and even the human body. 

But VR can go beyond passive viewing. One way to take VR to the next level is to give students the opportunity to curate, produce and create their own expeditions. By doing so, students create primary source artifacts in the form of 360-degree views they can share with the world.

After an amazing day of traveling all over the universe with Google Arts & Culture (formerly Google Expeditions), I wanted my students to be able to do more than have these experiences. I wanted them to create these types of expeditions for themselves and others. Now, using the Google Street View app, they can create their own 360-degree panoramas of any location.

5 steps to creating a VR image

To help students create their own expeditions, all you need is a smartphone or tablet with the Google Street View app and Google cardboard headset. Here’s how you do it.

Step 1: Have students open up the Google Street View app on their devices.  

Step 2: Next, they will click on “+” to take a photosphere.

Step 3: After selecting a location, they can take a photosphere, or 360-degree panoramic photo, by pointing at and following the series of yellow dots that appear as they move the camera around to capture a 360-degree view of their location. Be sure to tell them to move their device up, down, left and right. This will ensure the most immersive experience.

Step 4: After students take their photos in Google Street View, the image will appear in the gallery with the rest of their photos. Now it’s time to publish their photosphere to Google Maps.

Step 5: Clicking on any photo brings up the Google Cardboard icon in the upper right corner of the screen. They should set their phone into the the cardboard or other viewer case to see the image as an VR immersive experience.

Classroom applications are endless

As an educator, my goal is to get my students creating with technology. With VR, the possibilities are enormous. I have students research a location, artifact or landmark and then create an experience that they share with others simply by posting their photosphere. This is the perfect opportunity for students to engage in reading for a purpose and then synthesizing what they have read into an informative piece of writing that goes along with their VR expedition.

Students can also view spheres that people all over the world have taken and published to Google Maps. Simply enter a search term by clicking on the magnifying glass icon in the upper left corner of the app for the location they want to see. It will bring up a collection of images of that particular place.

Using these panoramas, students can study the Colosseum up close, analyze the structure of the Eiffel Tower from all angles and delve into the amazing history of the Taj Mahal. Students can pull up a panorama of the floor of the Borneo rain forest and make observations and inferences based on what they see in the image. It is even possible to go into the White House and take a virtual tour of the Red Room, Blue Room and more.

Having an enhanced view of the world through these panoramas leads to rich qualitative observations and sparks lively discussions about the world around us. Students can collaborate in groups to create a comparative study of architecture from around the world and then practice their communication skills to present their findings to their classmates.  

You can use them to launch discussions in science or social studies class. For example, students can pull up a panorama of the floor of the Cave on Lokrum in Dubrovnik, Croatia. They can then make observations and inferences based on what they see. Getting an insider’s look into CERN, a.k.a, the European Center for Nuclear Research, is definitely a rich educational experience.

Being able to collect, curate and share panoramas to create VR expeditions is really the new make-your-own-adventure, taking you and your students anywhere in the world.

Janice Mak is an instructional coach and teacher from Phoenix, Arizona. She helps her students learn through an interdisciplinary and “learning by doing” mindset. Read her blog and follow her on Twitter @jmakaz.