October 15, 2017

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Students Create VR Field Trips in Charlottesville, VA

Setting up a shoot at the Jefferson School.
Photos courtesy of IdaMae Craddock

My sister gave me a Google Daydream for Christmas and suggested that my students would love using it to explore VR in the library. They do. While VR can transport students to a place where they can see things from a new perspective, it also has the powerful capacity to let them look at themselves in a new way.

After purchasing a Samsung Gear 360 camera ($185), our first foray into VR creation was a virtual tour of our school, Burley Middle School in Charlottesville, VA. We loaded each photograph into YouTube and pinned the link to a scanned copy of a fire evacuation map using Thinglink.com. I tasked students with figuring out how to use the camera; they learned to operate the timer and the remote shutter on their own. They also had to think about perspective and audience. What would new sixth graders need to see? Should they show the cafeteria line so that students would know where to buy lunch?
The students’ seventh-grade history teacher was so impressed that she suggested we take a wider look at our community of Albemarle County, which is teeming with history. Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, James Monroe’s Ashlawn, and the University of Virginia all call Charlottesville home. In studying our own difficult history with race in seventh grade, we turned our lens on the Jefferson School in nearby Keswick—one of two segregated one-room schoolhouses built in the 1920s that are undergoing restoration.

Students experiment with using a VR camera.

While not every student could join the field trip, everyone could interact with the school building in VR through our 20 Google Cardboard headsets ($8.99) and Apple iPod Touches ($199). While filming the VR field trip, our students had to decide what was important to capture, what message they wanted to send, and what would be key for their fellow students to see and notice. I used the included Gear 360 software to create and post the video to YouTube. Unfortunately, there was no way for students using the headsets to actually be with us as we moved around the building. I borrowed and then purchased a Ricoh Theta S 360 camera ($326) because it can stream live video in 360 degrees. In addition to allowing students to attend virtual field trips all over the world, it lets the world attend school events. This year, we live-streamed our seventh-grade poetry reading.

Creating VR tours involves skills such as nonfiction writing, reading for detail, researching, interviewing, and having a sense of audience—and that’s before students even touch the camera. Meanwhile, the number of products available for consuming VR is growing. From the basic Google Cardboard to the room-scale HTC Vive, the market for devices is exploding. There’s a set for almost every budget. Individual students can use an interactive headset like the Google Daydream or Oculus Rift. This technology allows for interaction with the content (scrolling, clicking, etc.) via wands—much like a TV remote. If minimal interaction is required, the viewer clicks a button on top of the Google Cardboard and uses the gyroscope to connect with content.

We also use zSpace for social learning in VR. With this device, it’s possible for two students to simultaneously view and interact in VR. Imagine the possibilities for collaborative work.
Consuming VR content is a captivating game-changer. From exploring the flu virus through InCell VR to a virtual trip to a World War I trench, VR has changed our students’ perspective on the world. Not everyone can ascend Mount Everest. But we can learn about our place in the world by re-creating it for others, which is a powerful learning experience.

IdaMae Craddock a 15-year veteran of Albemarle County (VA) Public Schools, is the librarian at Burley Middle School.

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