Google’s Expeditions VR platform delivers to classrooms over 120 VR experiences that pull students into an immersive journey ranging from caves and coral reefs into outer space and the moon.

The program, offered at no cost to schools and students, has expanded to serve classrooms in the U.S. cities of Alexandria, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Detroit, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Orlando, Phoenix, Portland, Salt Lake City and Washington DC

Expeditions has also expanded its footprint abroad in serving cities in Canada (Toronto), Denmark and Singapore. The program started in September by serving select cities in the U.S., Australia, Denmark, New Zealand the United Kingdom, Brazil, Canada and Singapore.

Schools which are part of the Expedition’s Pioneer Program are given kits with everything they need to send students on VR field trips.

The kits include Asus smartphones and headsets that turn the handsets into VR viewers, with some relying on Google’s Project Cardboard and others using Mattel’s View-Master VR viewers. The teachers are given routers and tablets to guide the students through the VR excursions.

Teachers have attested to the impact the Expeditions program has on their students.

“Students left school today with an everlasting memory of the Great Barrier Reef, Mount Fuji, the Borneo rainforest, the moon and many other eye-opening locations on our glorious planet,” says Andriana Aguilar-Lapoint, a teacher at H.W. Schulze Elementary School in San Antonio, Texas.

The program is also changing the way teachers engage with their students, according to Michelle Guzman, a special education teacher at Dartmouth Middle School in San Jose, California.

“Teachers were amazed at the things they could do and the places they could see with their students,” says Guzman. “Several are continuing lessons that developed from the field trip they experienced. I know that it will change the way I help my students adapt and learn.”

Administrators looking to have their schools invited to the Pioneer Program can send a request to Google via the Expeditions website.

In late September, Google launched an education initiative to send hundreds of thousands of school children on free field trips to interesting destinations around the world and even into outer space. Of course, these are immersive virtual field trips that all take place in the classroom. Google calls it Expeditions, their virtual reality platform for the classroom. The program uses headsets like Google Cardboard and the new View-Master made by Mattel, which can mount a smartphone to special wide-view lenses. Today the company has announced a further expansion of cities it will bring Expeditions’ Pioneer Program to. Fifteen new cities have been added, including Alexandria, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Detroit, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Orlando, Phoenix, Portland, Salt Lake City and Washington DC in the US, as well as Toronto, Denmark, and Singapore.

So far, over 100,000 students have experienced some of the 100 different Expeditions Google has collaborated on with teachers and content partners across the globe. Expeditions have included virtual journeys to Antarctica, rainforests, museums, and even into outer space. On top of this, teachers get to lead their students on the tours themselves while Expedition team leaders are on hand to answer questions. After training with the program members, teachers will receive classroom kits that include a tablet they use to guide the lesson.

Beyond field trips to mars, Google Expeditions has other ideas how this immersive technology can improve schools. They can allow students to experience what “A day in the life” of people with certain potential careers is like. Another use case is exemplified by a partnership with Michelle Obama’s Higher Reach initiative, allowing high school students to take virtual tours of prospective colleges. In the future, Google envisions teachers eventually being able to create their own content for Expeditions based virtual lessons. In the meantime, teachers can sign up at Expeditions website to learn how to get their school on the list of those the Google teams are traveling to. For schools not chosen, but are located in the region of the cities listed on the program’s tour schedule, Expeditions teams will also be hosting demos at community centers, after-school programs, and local events.

Evidently happy with the way its virtual reality Expeditions program for classrooms is panning out, Google said Monday it’s taking the scheme to more schools in cities across the U.S. – including Portland, Orlando, New Orleans, and Las Vegas – while outside the U.S. it’s coming for the first time to schools in Canada, Denmark, and Singapore – it’s already being used by educators in the U.K., Australia, and Brazil.
For those not in the know, Expeditions lets students go on faraway field trips to places like Antarctica, the Great Barrier Reef, and the Borneo Rainforest – places that most school buses have no hope of ever reaching.
The virtual trips are made possible with a special classroom kit that includes ASUS smartphones, Google Cardboard viewers to transform the phones into VR headsets, a tablet allowing the teacher to conduct the VR tours, and a router that lets Expeditions function without an Internet connection.

A growing library of tours are offered, with around 120 available at the current time. They’ve been created by the likes of educational publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, British documentarian David Attenborough and his production company Alchemy VR, and the Wildlife Conservation Society. Some of the imagery included in the tours has been taken from Google’s huge collection of 360-degree Street View material.

Google launched the scheme in the fall following a successful pilot program, and the Web giant says that so far more than 100,000 students have used the kit in class.

In a post announcing the program’s expansion, Expeditions product manager Ben Schrom said the the response from students has so far been “overwhelmingly positive,” adding that it’s “helping students gain a deeper understanding of the world beyond the classroom and imagine endless possibilities for their future roles within it.”

With all that fun kit available, and plenty of exotic faraway places to explore, we can well imagine Expeditions is proving a hit with not only students, but teachers too.

One of the key things we’ve heard from teachers is they really wanted to find a way to engage their students meaningfully and find that hook to inspire and get kids excited about learning,” said Jennifer Holland, program manager for education apps at Google.

The company will deliver kits containing smartphones, a tablet for the teacher, a router that allows the software to run without an Internet connection and either a View-Master or Google Cardboard.

Google’s cardboard viewing boxes, which start around $20 (U.S.), wrap around a smartphone that is held up to the face to create an immersive experience.

Google Expeditions integrates Cardboard with images from Google Earth and Street View, as well as 360 degree footage captured on its Jump cameras

The tech giant is gathering feedback from students and teachers during this stage of the project before a planned release of an Expedition app that will be available on devices schools have already purchased later in the school year, said Jennifer Holland, program manager for education apps at Google.

The Expedition library currently includes more than 120 virtual trips to sites including Antarctica, the Acropolis, Chichen Itza, Mars and the Borneo rainforest.

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