History class: For most of us, it conjures images of heavy textbooks with never-ending columns of text, dry, monotonous lectures, and uninspiring maps and diagrams. Classes like these may soon become a thing of the past, though, with the introduction of Google Expeditions. Using the Google Expeditions app and a simple Google Cardboard viewer, teachers and students can take virtual trips to more than one hundred places, including landmarks like Chichen Itza, the Great Wall of China, Buckingham Palace, and even Mars. Suddenly, places that had once been inaccessible to most students are within arm’s reach.
Over half a million students from the US, Canada, and Sweden have participated in the Expeditions’ Pioneer Program since it launched last September. Google even created a special fleet of branded cars that have been delivering all the necessary equipment—phones, routers, and Cardboard viewers—to selected schools. But the experience will soon become more easily accessible. Last week, Google announced the release of its beta app for Android, which allows schools and teachers to download the experiences on their own. However, before you head to Google Play, excited to explore the Great Barrier Reef, beware that for now Google requires you to sign up and will notify you once you are approved to download the app.
Expeditions has already attracted an array of high-profile partners, from PBS and the Wildlife Conservation Society to British documentarian David Attenborough. But the virtual trips are not limited to topics related to history or geography. As part of its collaboration with the Starship Foundation, which provides young women of color from low-income families with resources to finish college, Google has prepared a series of “day in the life” tours in which you will be able to follow various professionals, like a veterinarian and a computer scientist, through a typical work day. It’s a fun way to let young people explore potential future career options. Michelle Obama and her Reach Higher initiative also joined the Expedition project to prepare a series of virtual college tours.
No matter the latitude, whenever Google Expeditions visits a school, the classrooms tend to be filled with “oohs” and “aahs.” We’re certain that soon enough VR headsets will become indispensable parts of any classroom. If only they had been around when we were kids!