Like many school counselors, I often imagine the lives of my students years later, transformed by education and the possibilities we opened up for them. A large part of realizing their future lives is introducing them to new concepts and ideas and encouraging them to touch the greater world or a yet-realized future. One of my recently discovered connection tools is also my newest Google infatuation, Google Expeditions.
Google Expeditions is an immersive and collaborative virtual reality (VR) experience. Through cell phones, users either manage or participate in a multitude of pre-selected expeditions. As school counselors, we have access to captivating tours of colleges and career experiences with only a few clicks and swipes. I can use Google Expeditions to transport students to campuses across various regions, sizes, and settings. A student need only begin with a cell phone, because the Google Expeditions app is free. Students can toggle between VR goggles or full screen mode. On my cell phone or tablet, I can take the lead, selecting an expedition, and once I’ve selected the appropriate campus, I need only wait for my students to click to “join.”
Here is an example: For this tour, I’ve selected Penn State: Main Campus. Press “Play” and we’re in the lobby of Old Main. The polished redbrick shines as do the glowing white pillars. As students explore the centuries-old building, I guide them through prepared questions and talking points provided to me through the app. I share details on a mural by Henry Barnum Poor and other features of the building including portraits and the foyer. The participants are guided to each feature by a white arrow that appears on their screen.
Swipe right, press play, and we’re transported to Hetzel Union Building, surrounded by collegians eating and studying (and one welcoming mascot in the distance). Touching the drawing icon at the top of the screen, I circle the Nittany Lion so everyone can see the character waving in the crowd. My students respond appropriately, laughing and making Where’s Waldo? jokes.
The next swipe and we’re outside on the mall surrounded by trees, buildings, and students in shorts, followed by a visit to the campus creamery where fresh ice cream is served. With two swipes we breeze through the Meteorology Department and land at the Nittany Lion Shrine. We leave the limestone mountain lion and enter the College of Education’s Krause Innovation studio: The futuristic setting is a chance for me to explore with my students a vision of a collaborative and creative educational experience for them now and in the future. We briefly stop at the picturesque Arboretum before entering the Library.
Finally, we land on the 50-yard line of Beaver Stadium. My students turn and are surrounded by a stadium with a capacity of more than 100,000. On a Saturday afternoon on ESPN, they wouldn’t be able to explore the stadium in such a personal manner.
After about 30-45 minutes, I’ve walked my students through Pennsylvania’s largest public institution without a bus, permission slips, or need for chaperones. What comes next is a truly powerful experience: We explore Stevens Institute of Technology, Bowdoin, or Howard Community College. Constraints of finance, readiness, and transportation are swiped away with Google Expeditions or other campus virtual reality tours like YouVisit.
The whole experience becomes a grand introduction to postsecondary preparedness. I suggest the following steps:
- I like to start with a pretest for this activity. It’s great way to capture students’ early understanding of college and the amount of growth that follows.
- I love providing a brief lesson on post-secondary options, basic vocabulary, and big ideas including types, size, cost, aid, and admissions.
- After a brief discussion of the devices, app, and joining process, we’re free to explore institutions across the US while in the confines of a classroom.
- A whole group discussion lets the students share their experiences. There is normally a lot of energy and excitement after such an engaging experience. We dialogue about the aspects and type of campus, its perceived benefits, and an imagined future.
- A traditional post-test captures the student experience and any change in knowledge of college or shift in attitudes, including post-secondary aspiration. Using their devices, students could also do another reflective piece such as a video-log or Padlet discussion.
Many outcomes are associated with this captivating VR experience. For example, a class can be introduced to the college search process or a single student can imagine his or her college life while taking a self-guided tour on their phone.
Google Expeditions not only opens the doors to distant campuses, but also exposes students to careers. Non-traditional, STEM, and adventurous occupations can be experienced as easily as a virtual stroll through a college park. Complex issues such as immigration or the vestiges of slavery can be explored with real, tangible interactions. I think of Google Expeditions as realized education, where we can share in immersive and engaging experiences that transcend the confines that surround many of our students. Explore the app. Walk virtually through historic buildings, dabble in jobs you never thought you’d try, and be guided through difficult stories of our nation’s past. Once comfortable, pack up your students and take them along with you using this futuristic technology.