At the GAFE Summit in Auckland this week there was a lot of interest, in fact more than interest – fascination, excitement, an insatiable curiosity for VR in various forms. Jim Sill‘s sessions on the Google Cultural Institute and the VR experience through Google Cardboard were well over-subscribed and there were at least three other sessions on 360° photos and Streetview.
The opportunities that being able to see the world in 3D offers for education are undeniably huge. We can send our students on virtual field trips – indeed LEARNZ already
“assists New Zealand teachers to provide online experiences for their students that are
- 21st century”
Geography teachers can enable students to immerse themselves in the volcanic landscapes they are studying and see the impact on landforms without leaving the safety of the four walls of their classrooms, history teachers can visit archaeological ruins, battlefields, museums, and sites of significant historical importance, English students can put themselves in the shoes of the characters of the books they are studying and walk down the streets of the novel’s setting, and art students can visit galleries, see artworks so close that they can explore the brushstrokes and details of the colour they couldn’t possibly see even in real life.
But where am I going to here? The Edblognz challenge for April is;
THE LOVE-HATE RESOURCE: Re-evaluate an old resource in your subject area.
As a language learner and teacher being able to immerse myself and my students in the culture is a key element to successful language acquisition. Capturing the curiosity and fascination of a country, its people and its culture is what engages us to want to learn more about the language. My first memories of learning French in the early 1970s were at the age of 9 when our teacher showed us grainy black and white images of Paris via a manual filmstrip projector (can’t for the life of me find an image of one!) but I was hooked. I wanted to go and actually see what those blurry buildings really looked like in colour. My desire to travel was sealed then and there. Likewise in geography, our teacher showed us slideshows of his travels – snapshots where the scenery looked so far away but a glimpse was tantalising enough to whet my appetite.
In the mid 1980s as a new teacher, I remember winding similar film reels on to the bobbins of the projector and showing photos of France – by now in colour – to my students. Over the years slides gave way to videos, videos gave way to DVDs, DVDs to Youtube films and now we have 3D and Virtual Reality.
The power of images and especially moving images to capture the imagination and excitement of learners is not in dispute. However, my wonderings last week as we explored what the Google Cultural Institute offered, and the “surround sound” experience of Google Cardboard went like this;
- Are we taking the “comfort zone” out of field trip experiences? Much of the learning happens when we are outside our comfort zone, when we have to “mind the gap” and adapt to new surroundings, new experiences – are we sanitising exploration too much?
- Can we really learn about culture, language, history without being able to touch, smell, hear, connect, communicate and build relationships with the people and the place?
- Are we taking so much of the mystery out of the world around us that our young children will not seek to travel and experience the “real thing”?
A while back I wrote this in a blogpost called the Blimage Challenge:
“We can learn about the world from books, from the internet, we can “see” the world through the millions of photos , videos and TV documentaries and we can learn about cultures and people. But travel offers the chance to touch and feel and smell and taste and hear. How do you transfer those tangible aspects of knowledge to a machine? These are the things that give understanding and compassion to knowledge. ……. A sense of belonging to the world, of having your place in the world, interacting with people , the culture and the environment.”
Grainy black and white photos inspired me to learn languages and to travel but for some of my classmates it was enough just to see the pictures. I loved being able to show my students photos of France and Spain and other places I had visited – images and videos, used appropriately, are a powerful way of engendering interest and engagement which leads to deep learning.
Google Cardboard and the Google Cultural Institute are the natural next step on the continuum of media use that has underpinned my language teaching. My latest “thing” is taking 360° photos, uploading them to Streetview, exploring photos that are already there and looking at them through my Google Cardboard. I love the sense of “being there” that they provide. I know that for many VR experiences maybe the only way they can “be” in these places and I certainly wouldn’t deny anyone the chance to have them as there is so much we can learn from them. But, like any resource, beware the way you use it in the classroom. It is a bright, shiny, exciting, tool so keep learning and the learner at the heart of how you use it and it will send students into another dimension of learning. Hopefully, they will still have the opportunity to connect with people and touch, feel, see, smell and taste the world around them and let those experiences inform who they are and make a difference to their lives.
All images used in this blog taken by Anne Robertson- CC BY-NC-SA