The day when students can visit landmarks from across the world is here, thanks to virtual reality. The District started looking into Google Expedition VR kits as soon as Google released them a couple years ago. Last year, Technology Director Karl Hehr put together a small kit equipped with cardboard cutout headsets, as a “proof of concept” to gauge interest from teachers. Overwhelmingly, teachers were interested in the concept as it opened the world to their classrooms.
Last semester, the District purchased a set of 30 Google Expedition VR units for classroom use. Ames Middle School teacher Dianna Sheldon, along with Instructional Technology Coach Sarah Davison, were the first to test the units when they took students to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The field trip was a companion piece to the book they were reading in class.
Students in all her classes loved the experience. For many, it reinforced what they were reading with one student even asking did this really happen? Sheldon said, “We had just read a book on the holocaust, but it wasn’t until the students could actually see the cattle cars and the pictures that the book was made real for them. I had students who were doing research on their computers to answer questions that they had about the museum and the holocaust after we were done with the VR.”
Director Hehr already knows that the District will purchase more VR units based on preliminary teacher interest. He envisions having at least one set per building with field trips across the world as only the beginning of this technology. He hopes to have students building their own virtual reality tutorials and sharing those with other schools. High school students could create tours of Ames High, offering incoming freshman a perspective of the building.
The educational benefit of virtual reality is that it provides students the ability to visit places they may never be able to explore on their own. Hehr has school connections in Hawaii who are developing virtual reality tours of their home state. One day, Ames students could take a tour of a dormant volcano and share their own of Iowa to students who may never be able to visit a farm.