Google Expeditions, Project Tango, and WebVR, Oh My!
Recently I had the opportunity to share Google Expeditions with 12 high-schoolers in a summer tech camp. This is not the first time I’ve led a group through using Google Expeditions so I knew that there would probably be some technical glitches. True to form, there were troubles for students connecting to the personal WiFi router I had to set up since my location’s WiFi network doesn’t cooperate with Google Expeditions. Once all twelve were eventually connected as Explorers, I led them through a few expeditions and encountered slow loading times (probably due to my router), one dizzy student, and some impressed but skeptical participants. While the experience was illuminating for some, other students were disappointed with the inability to see each other and the long waiting times (if they only knew how long we used to wait with 14.4k modems, but I get it).
The next day, I also happened to listen to Kent Bye’s Voices of VR Podcast episode #539: Google Expeditions is Leading Innovation in the Future of Immersive Education. First, I highly recommend his podcast on the whole, and this particular episode is helpful in understanding where Google is going with Expeditions. To sum it up, Expeditions is going Augmented Reality (AR) on Google’s Project Tango platform and they are experimenting with WebVR! While I am excited that Google Expeditions isn’t just sitting still and slowly wilting, I am hesitant to declare these as massive improvements. Connecting Expeditions with WebVR is questionable, as technical issues usually revolve around the internet connectivity within school networks, router bandwidth, and the speed of downloading content. However, if it makes creating and accessing Expeditions easier then I’m all for it.
The introduction of Expeditions AR is a new and interesting development. Increasing the social presence for each student is great and Tango does a decent job of mapping virtual objects into real space. Take a look in the video below.
However, more needs to be done to look into the best uses of AR and from the looks of Expeditions AR, results are mixed. From the video, the novelty effect seems high but at least kids are moving around and examining objects from different angles. Personally, seeing a static lung in AR is not that much better than when I saw it in school as a simple 3D model.
Also, having to crouch on the ground to look at the DNA helix doesn’t strike me as an improvement in learning. If AR wants to show its mettle, a better use of the surroundings is in order. Though like I’ve said before, the engagement that VR and AR bring to this generation of students should not be ignored. At least they are sparking interests and soon do much more than that.