Google Earth VR was recently released for the HTC Vive and it is one of the most appealing applications of VR I’ve seen. VR is often touted as the medium to allow you to go anywhere anytime and Google Earth VR has taken a giant step in that direction. Ben Lang of Road to VR has a first take article review on it so I’ll just focus on the potential it has for educators.
First off, as a human being, you should find a way to experience Google Earth VR. It is truly amazing and just plain fun to fly around the world like Superman. As an educator, it inspires one to think about how students would use it and what they could gain from it. Here are some potential use cases if you are one of the very lucky few to have an HTC Vive at your school.
- Free exploration – Just allow students to explore freely! Have them go through the tutorial to become familiar with the controls and then let them choose what they want to look at. Constructivist theory says that the students will create their own knowledge and meanings as they explore what they want. Let them try and observe what they do. It will probably surprise you!
- Tours – Google has already created some tours centered around “Water”, “Landmarks”, and other notable world experiences. Try them and then pattern your own after them based on what you teach. It allows you to save locations so use that to record where you want students to visit. For instance, creating a tour about the “Ring of Fire” tectonic zone could include different locations all around the Pacific Ocean.
- Personal History Sharing – One of the most social uses of Google Earth VR is the ability to share your personal history with observers by showing them where memorable events happened in your life. When I was a teacher I used this idea with my Advisory students and Google Maps to help them share about where they live and it made very strong connections among them. (This type of exercise can be extremely vulnerable so be aware.) With Google Earth VR, the participant can lead others on a personal life tour, showing their home town, where they were born, what previous schools they went to, old vacation spots, etc. VR is often dismissed as being isolating but doing this is one of the most social and intimate experiences one can have.
- Geographic Relationships – Google Earth VR does not have country or city boundaries marked. Its a subtle omission but important as we live in a world that is affected by political realities. An interesting exercise could be to look at the earth from a birds-eye-view and mark out our own boundaries. What natural features are used as boundaries? Which ones are not? Reflection on the effects of political boundaries could be useful as students notice people focus on differences between countries when geographically they are sometimes closer to others.
- City Planning – The ability to have a 3D overview of a city’s layout and to easily compare different ones is unique. Google Earth VR allows one to see perspectives from any angle, city outlines, obstructed views due to natural or man-made objects, and orientations of buildings. Being able to gain a perspective on earthly objects from any direction could be quite useful for education and many other applications.
These are just a few of the many uses Google Earth VR has and I look forward to hearing from educators about other uses. It will continue to improve as data is being added to Google Earth so check in regularly for updates. If you have any other ideas for Google Earth VR please share them on our newly-constructed VR for Education Wiki page.