One of my favorite tools to show teachers Google Maps. One of the main reasons is that many have seen or used the application, but most have not considered how to apply it in the classroom. Google has invested and supported development for both augmented and virtual reality into one of their flagship products, Google Maps. This feature is called Street View was created by deploying hundreds of cars onto our road system to document both GPS locations and what you would see at those places. Many people do not even know this feature exists in the Google Maps software.
Some educators are familiar with the Street View tool that gives people the ability to change to a Street View perspective to create a field of vision based on the images captured by the Google car cameras. The unfamiliar part for many is the ability to use your mobile device and switch to a virtual reality view by touching on the compass icon in the corner of the screen or app. This places your device into virtual reality mode. From there you can actually simulate looking around a location. When you hold your phone up, as if you are preparing to take a picture, you will find that as you move the phone to the right, left or up and down, the images on the screen react. The images change in such a way that makes you feel like you are actually standing in the location you’ve entered.
This particular application of the virtual reality feature in Google maps on the classroom is a rather interesting proposition. The possibility of having students visit locations they have studied in class and actually explore the space is both interesting and attractive. This is further amplified by Google’s commitment to making the worlds information more accessible. To meet their goals Google has elected to bring their camera systems into a number of locations that might be inaccessible to most students.
For example, if you Google the Palace of Versailles you will find that you can actually walk around in the palace virtually to explore and discover the structure and artwork contained within. (see video below) This is a fantastic way to encourage student agency. The fact that this technology will assist both teachers and students, and can be used to offer virtual field trips is a great way to use Google Maps.
SkyView is a really unique software, in that it can be used as both a virtual reality or an augmented reality. The SkyView app is designed to be used with students to teach astronomy. The app is designed so that you can use the camera on you mobile device to look at the sky. As you look at the sky through the device, the software overlays a digital map of the sky onto the user's viewpoint. This makes it possible for the student to not only learn the constellations. It also makes it possible to more fully understand the science that makes all this work.
I will never forget the great discussion I was able to have with my children when they used the SkyView app to observe the sky during the day. The first reaction was surprise, since they were looking up at a blue sky, but the device they were holding seemed to suggest there were stars mixed in with the clouds. What followed was a great discussion where I could explain how our solar system and atmosphere work together to hide the stars from our view during daylight hours. This would be a fantastic activity in an elementary or middle school science classroom.
The application also provides the user with an ability to find Solar objects. When you type the name of an object in the search field, an arrow appears on the screen directing where you should look to find the star or planet. This created another great opportunity when my son, who is in the fourth grade, searched for the moon. As he followed the arrow directing him, he suddenly realized that he was looking down at the ground to see where the moon should be. For me this was an eye-opening experience to the power of how an augmented reality tool can place the student into contextual learning situations. Moving forward, my son will never forget his new understanding of how the sunrise and moonrise happen due to the mechanics of the movement of earth.