Recently I had a chance to try out the Google Expeditions app that is still in beta testing and it was a 8.5 out 10 on the excitement scale. Getting a 85% in school usually nets you a B, which is considered “above average”, and is appropriate for where the app is right now. It has some great positives for teachers and some difficulties that will need to be addressed before its potential can be fully realized in schools.
- Teacher controls: The app thoughtfully gives teachers the ability to pause everyone’s screens, digitally point out things of interest, and helpful notes about the scene.
- Multi-user experience: One of the best aspects of VR is its social possibilities. Students love experiencing things together and even though they can’t see each other, they still talk and yell to each other as if they were on a real field trip. The teacher also has a handy ability to see on their screen where the individual students are looking.
- Far off and exotic places: The ability to visit far off destinations or unimaginable locations will always be one of the best things about VR. Google does a good job of mixing it up, going under the sea, to national parks, and around the world.
- Uses only still images: This does allow for quicker loading times and less memory usage on each device but it really limits the immersive feel of the experience. Even a simple 10-second video loop would be much more effective. Not to mention there are some strange stitching errors where people and vehicles look like they are cut in half or merged like Siamese twins. Talk about points of interest!
- No background sound: An easy way to increase the “immersivity” of the experience would be to have recorded the background sounds of the location and play it back. It could be on low volume where the teacher’s voice could still be heard and provide a nice backdrop for the students
- Potential Cost: Google hasn’t released a statement about how much the Google Expeditions Package would cost but you’re looking at buying about 30 Google Cardboards, 30 basic smartphones, a router, and a teacher tablet to go with it. Without it being subsidized it’ll probably fall in the $5,000 range, which isn’t that bad considering what you’d be getting. If a teacher gets access to the app they could technically try to do it on the cheap by using the students’ personal phones but that would require giving them access to the school WiFi, personally downloading the program to each student’s phone, and then buying 30 Cardboard viewers.
The Google Expeditions app is still in beta testing and getting lots of good user feedback through its Expeditions Pioneer Program. The negatives I mentioned are relatively simple fixes that would greatly increase the immersive nature and effectiveness of the VR experience. If these can be added before the final product is released, Google Cardboard and Expeditions would solidify their already strong foothold in the educational VR space.