Virtual reality is an artificial, computer generated recreation of a real life situation or a simulation of an imagined or created environment (like a virtual tour). The view feels immersed in the experience.
David Attenborough’s virtual reality experience has shown us the relevance of this type of activity to the study of geography and coral reefs specifically.
Hear David Attenborough talk about his virtual reality experience:
My Google Cardboard class set arrived on Friday. Google have designed a really cost effective way to allow people to access virtual reality. As a kid of the 80s, I remember using my Mattel View Master to look at scenes from movies and TV shows. Google Cardboard kind of works the same way, except that instead of using slide cards you use your phone to view the experience. Before I get too far into this, virtual reality is by no means a substitute for fieldwork, and I think we are a long way off before anyone could even try to claim that. This is just a fun activity, with the potential to enhance learning in the future as the apps and technology develops.
There are a range of different headsets that you can buy to experiment with virtual reality, There are different brands, materials, sizes and quality. As a first foray into this world, I have gone for pretty much the cheapest option available. In my opinion, if you are intending to use it in your classes, you are going to want to get one of the cheaper models so that you can have more of them for your students, and so that it isn't such a big deal if they get broken. The Google Cardboard in the image below cost about $2.00 on ebay. The other headset featured cost about $10-15 dollars, and was purchased from Typo.
So what do you need?
- A viewer
- A smartphone (for each viewer, so you might have to ask the students to download the app and use their own phones).
- A range of virtual reality apps downloaded (you will need to do some research to find the right one for your topic and students).
Below: A version of Google Cardboard available on Ebay for about $5.
There are a few apps that you can use to access the experiences:
- Google Cardboard
- Youtube (use 360 videos)
- Street View
Affordable access to virtual reality experiences is relatively new, and the apps and experiences are really only beginning to become available. When you open the apps, you will see a split screen with two images that are roughly the same, but shown at slightly different angles. When you place your phone inside the Google Cardboard and look at it through the lenses it will give the impression of being 3 dimensional. This will enable your students to feel like they are immersed in the environment.
The simplest way to use virtual reality is Youtube 360.
Simply go to Youtube and search “coral 360 video”. A range of options will come up that you can use with or without head sets.
These have been generally designed for tourists, but may be an easy way to begin to introduce virtual reality if you are a little apprehensive.
The benefit of using Youtube 360 is that you can use it on your desktop computer/laptop if you don’t have access to personal devices.
The Google Cardboard app is really quite interesting, and provides a number of examples that give you an idea of what the potential will be, but in terms of education, in my opinion it is not all the valuable just yet. What it does show is what the potential is. The screenshots below show an example of an Arctic environment. When you select different items in the scene a popup appears providing some basic information about the feature. Given the right scene or environment, and the right level of information this could be useful in an educational sense if it were developed further.
A couple of the great virtual experiences are the ones where you are immersed in a real environment (rather than a cartoon-like environment). Street View enables you to explore places with the full 360 degrees. Click Explore, Choose a location, and click the Google Cardboard icon. You do really feel like you are part of the place. This could be valuable in helping students develop an appreciate of the places you are studying, and to get a better understanding of what those places are actually like
Virtual reality lesson 1
Use Google Streetview to examine a range of sites around the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Triangle. Choose specific sites, eg, several locations around Lizard Island, or Kimbe Bay. Compare the two main virtual field sites.
Students can make judgements about the quality of the corals, the colours of the corals, etc.
Students may try to identify specific types of coral to compare complexity and biodiversity (although this may be a bit too complicated).
Students can use this as a form of observation to be backed up with secondary data
Open the Within app.
Select Valen’s Reef.
This presentation follows a local fisherman explaining the pressures on him and his local reef.
A narrative is provided over the footage of the reef and the island
Students can maneuver around the scene to access 360o views.
Students will feel immersed in the scene and the story.
Virtual reality lesson 2 - Valen's Reef
Students view Valen’s Reef, using the Within app.
A couple of quick questions:
Discovery VR app
The Discovery VR app has a number of presentations that relate to Geography generally, and a series “Sharks Among Us” which can be tied in with Marine Environments generally or coral reefs.
Examine Google Cardboard here: https://vr.google.com/cardboard/
You can follow Google Classroom on twitter at @GoogleVR.
Deputy Principal at a Sydney high school. Coordinating author of the new Geoactive book series.
Student resource sites: