Education goes Virtual with Google Expeditions

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A fleet of Subaru vehicles took to the streets this fall heading cross-country with one promising mission, to enliven education. Sporting the Google Expeditions logo, each vehicle hauls a team of specialists and the toolkits necessary to bring virtual realities to the classroom.

Google’s Expeditions Pioneer Program, announced at their I/O Conference in May, makes it possible for teachers to take their students on more than 100 interactive journeys without leaving the comfort of their seats.

This virtual reality (VR) platform is free to schools that apply online and are selected by the Expeditions team. Starting in the United States, the Pioneer Program will expand globally, touring Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and Brazil. Although tech companies have long before marketed their products to enhance school curriculum, Google adds a twist, making lesson plans completely immersive.

Jennifer Holland, program manager for Google Apps for Education, explains Expedition’s advantage, “It’s not always about the most spectacular images. It’s also about being able to see different things that you otherwise wouldn’t.”

Virtual Education: Yesterday’s Technology, Today’s Marketing Implications

Leading technology businesses are increasingly targeting the education sector and producing applications designed specifically for use in schools.

Microsoft led the charge in 2003 with the creation of Skype. Today they emphasize Skype for the classroom, promising the opportunity to connect with 70,000+ other classrooms worldwide on virtual fieldtrips. Microsoft also offers OneNote Class Notebook, which provides a virtual workspace for students and teachers to collaborate and share content. Three years later, Google launched Apps for Education. It currently boosts 25 million users and is accessed by 74 of the top 100 universities in the U.S. The Expeditions Program takes Google’s education initiatives to the next level.

Expeditions’ toolkits include ASUS smartphones, a tablet for teachers to guide up to 50 students on virtual excursions, a router to prevent Internet malfunctions, and Google’s low cost cardboard viewers that transform phones into virtual reality headsets. Google headsets broadcast 360-degree views generated from Google Street View and GoPro’s Jump camera rig, a 16-camera system that creates 3D images for the virtual tours.

To date, Google has distributed more than 1 million Cardboard viewers. Google’s $45-or-less cardboard headsets (free when trialing through the Pioneer Program) pose a threat to Samsung’s $200 virtual reality gear powered by Oculus software.

From an advertising perspective, as brands begin to look to virtual reality platforms to power their marketing efforts, Google will hold an extreme cost advantage. Elle Magazine plans to live-stream a fashion show and Marriott Hotels are considering using VR headsets to encourage travel to new destinations. Imagine what this trend could mean for college universities attempting to increase attendance of out-of-state students by providing virtual touring opportunities. Eventually, universities could even adapt VR headsets for professional training purposes; picture engineers watching their concepts come to life before approving them for mass production.

The Future of Expeditions

Google Expeditions is currently collaborating with partners around the world to develop content. PBS, the Planetary Society, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the American Museum of Natural History are some of the enlisted supporters. Of the 100 existing virtual trips, popular visits include the Great Wall of China, Independence Hall in Philadelphia, and Yosemite National Park. Google developers are working to add more to the list for fall 2016.

Once the Pioneer Program is complete, Google Expeditions plans to expand into stimulated career exploration and professional shadowing programs with the support of First Lady Michelle Obama and her Reach Higher Initiative. With Google’s low cost headset and high tech imaging capabilities, the possibilities for virtual reality are endless.

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I am a junior volleyball player studying marketing, public relations, and digital imaging at the University of Akron, OH. I want to travel the world and write about it, but Minnesota will always be my home.

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