Using Google Expeditions for School OT Practice
Virtual reality is A TON of fun and opens the door to lots of new ideas for school OT practice. That being said, it’s definitely up to us as educators to make sure that the virtual reality content we’re using in schools is safe, appropriate, and educational. I’m writing today about one VR app that I LOVE for school practice. Google Expeditions is not only free but offers a TON of educational material and plenty of features that make it ideal for school or classroom use.
The idea behind the app is that you have a “guide” who uses the tablet app to take “explorers” on a virtual tour. So while the “explorers” are immersed in the scenes on the tour, the “guide” can read the explanations of each scene, see what the explorers are looking at and direct their attention to important things. You will need the Google Expeditions app on all the devices.
Google Expeditions is an Ideal First Virtual Reality App for Educators and Therapists
Google Expeditions was initially created for classroom use and has some great features such as being able to “guide” the tour from a tablet and see what all your students are looking at in each scene. You can also direct their attention to important things when the time comes.
What You Need to Get Started
The app is approved for ages 7 and up but ALWAYS check the age limit on your virtual reality headsets. The set up I use requires an iPad, an iPod touch for each student (I never do groups larger than 2), and a MergeVR headset for each student. The iPod touch with the Google Expeditions app works by sliding the device into one of the headsets. These headsets are approved for 10 years and older and I like that they are made of soft foam! I’ve written more about this set up here.
Since I’m keeping my devices at school, I like that I’m able to remove the iPod touch and store it is a drawer while not having to worry about those foam headsets getting broken! They also have adjustable eyepieces and are ok for glasses wearers. I recommend taking a few minutes to first time to show students how to adjust the eye pieces, take the goggles on and off, etc. Let them know they can take them off at any time!
Definitely Talk to Your IT Department First
**IMPORTANT: In order to use the app you will need for your tablet (that you use to “guide” the expedition) and the devices in the headsets to be on the same network. I did this by getting a router and having our IT department set up a special connection just for Google Expeditions. The only drawback is that I can only use it within range of the router. So this limits your ability to take it into different classrooms. I highly recommend you talk with your school’s IT department about how to go about this. Google provides information about the different options
Immersion is NOT for Everyone!
Something important to remember is that virtual reality does NOT have to be immersive. There is plenty of value just taking these tours on the tablet. There are lots of reasons why a child might not be able to or want to put on a headset. Though I will say that one thing I like about Google Expeditions is that you’re exploring a still picture and not watching any videos where there might be movement or sudden actions that could cause a startle or be over-stimulating. I always recommend giving hesitant kiddos the option not to use the goggles.
Inspire Writing and Communication with Fun, Immersive Activities
Lots of kids struggle to come up with ideas for writing. With all the different places they can go in Google Expeditions it is usually easy to find something relevant to their topic. Rather than having to imagine what a place or thing looks like and describe it, they can see it as they’re coming up with ideas. You can even create your own tours of places they’ve been using 360 photos from Google Maps!
Sometimes, as part of a writing activity, I have students take turns describing what they see and either using voice typing or having the student write or type notes. They can then go back and use this for either a writing assignment or even a project for science or social studies. The most important thing is that the virtual reality is part of your session and helps you meet their goals. Be creative! If anything, the virtual reality should at least be novel and motivating for students who might find writing too hard or boring. But remember to limit time spent in virtual reality. I never have kids take a tour for more than 5-10 minutes at most.
There Are Other Cool Ways to Use it Too!
There are lots of other ways you can use this technology in your practice. I’ve even started using Google Expedition for creating virtual social stories so that students can tour a place they are about to go. This is great for students going on a field trip or who might be transitioning to middle school. I also sometimes use it as just a motivator for getting through some less fun tasks. Nothing wrong with that!
If You’re Looking to Use Virtual Reality, Google Expedition is a Great Place to Start
I went with the MergeVR headsets and iPod touches because that worked for our IT department and met the needs of my students. There are other options you can explore including purchasing a classroom kit if you plan to use it with an entire class (though this is much pricier). Google provides details on purchasing or building a kit here.
My total cost for 2 headsets, 2 iPod touches, and a wireless router came out to around $580. I checked out the iPad from our AT department but you would need to buy that if one is not available to use.
There are lots of ways you can incorporate Google Expeditions into your classroom or school based practice. You can use virtual reality to support writing, provide a fun break from paper/pencil tasks, a motivator for completing difficult tasks, creating social stories and more. It’s a great place to start with virtual reality in the classroom because it’s high quality content and you have the ability to guide and see what students are looking at during the whole experience.
Things to Remember
- Check with your IT department before making any purchases
- Always read manufacturer warnings on virtual reality headsets and pay attention to age limits
- Limit time in virtual reality (5-10 minutes at most)
- Always use virtual reality as PART of a session or lesson rather than the bulk of it
- Make sure you teach children how to take the goggles on and off and adjust them if needed
- Always have an non-immersive option (ex. Looking at the tour through the tablet or one of the handheld devices)
As always, feel free to leave a comment or question! Have you used virtual reality in your school OT practice? If so, what apps are you using?
Don’t forget to follow me on IG @inclusiveot4schools
Also subscribe to Amanda Beason OT on Youtube for how to videos and more!