What if I told you I could go to Paris, Rome, Monte Carlo, Jerusalem, The Great Barrier Reef, the Arctic, Venice and Mars all within 45 minutes? You would think I was either crazy, or lying – I am neither. Rather, I am a believer in virtual reality.
To begin week #3 of the MAET program, we spent the morning immersing ourselves in virtual worlds through the use of Google Cardboard. Now I had heard of Google Cardboard prior to today, but had never actually seen or used one in person. I had been curious about these tools for quite a while, but was always reluctant to explore their functionality as I thought it was of no educational use – boy was I wrong!
Google cardboard is, quite literally, that. It is a device made of cardboard that has two eye holes – covered in a special material that allows for 3D functionality – and a slot to hold a smartphone. To use, simply download the Google Cardboard app, drop your phone in the slot and be carried away into the abyss of virtual reality.
The first place I went in this new realm was on an Arctic expedition. There I encountered a fox, saw some fishermen looking for a catch, and almost got squished by a giant whale! It was about this point that I could see what the craze surrounding Google Cardboard was, but also how it could be of value to me in the classroom.
After the Arctic expedition, I went on an Urban Hike – this is where I got to travel through all the aforementioned cities listed above. This experience was one that I will probably cling to as applicable directly to my classroom. The Urban Hike uses Google street-view style images to let you roam and explore various areas around the world. Yes, I said roam and explore – you can go down various streets, walk into buildings and turn around a full 360 degrees without ever losing your image.
As I began to think about the practical application of this tool, the Urban Hike got me thinking – I teach a Title 1 (high poverty) school. Many of my kids have never, and will never leave the town they grow up in – and that is okay – but this technology will give them the opportunity to see the world regardless. When we study Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment I can take my students to the streets of Russia; when we learn about the murders of the Salem Witch Trials we can walk in Salem where the innocents walked; when we try to relate to a 10 year old girl living through the Iranian revolution, we can see exactly what it is that she is describing to us.
This technology won’t just break down walls for my students – it will blow them away.
Some of the greatest benefits to Google Cardboard is its durability, functionality, and cost. Because Google Cardboard is literally made of cardboard, it is durable and can be suited for students of all ages. Being made of cardboard also makes these tools affordable (about $12-15 each) and with only a slot for a smartphone, they couldn’t be easier to use! I recommend this tool for anyone looking to get out into the world – on a budget.
The greatest constraint you will have with these tools is that they do require the user to have a smartphone with the Google Cardboard app downloaded onto it. One other constraint that we faced was the size of the actual Google Cardboards. I was unaware that these tools came in various sizes – we had the smaller version. This was an issue because if you had a smartphone larger than an iPhone 6s, it would not fit into the slot. The other issue this raised was users with glasses couldn’t hold the device up to their face with their glasses on. Luckily I am nearsighted (I can’t see far away) so I could remove my glasses and still experience the virtual reality without any vision issues.
Overall I am really glad I got to try this technology. Google cardboard is a very useful and entertaining tool that I would highly recommend for any classroom that won’t break the bank!