Introducing Google Cardboard for the Classroom by @TheEdTechDude

Opportunities to enhance learning with Google Cardboard

So by now you have your hands on a Google Cardboard (or similar VR Headset), you have an appropriate mobile device (smartphone or iPod touch etc.) and you also have the official Google Cardboard App. I’ll look more deeply into other apps which are available in later posts, but for now let’s explore what you can do with just these three simple things; a device, the app and the cardboard headset.

This is a re-blog post originally posted by David Hayward and published with kind permission.

The original post can be found here.

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Just before we jump in, one little detail which is seeming overlooked on almost every website I can find, is that the official Google Cardboard apps for iOS and for Android are very different. It’s important to highlight this just in case you are using Cardboard in a classroom where you have pupils using their own phones or devices to run the Google Cardboard App; as depending on what phone they have, the Google Cardboard App is going to look at feel different. That’s okay, so long as you know what to expect!

I usually refuse to get drawn into any discussion about which is better, iOS or Android (in terms of the operating systems and phones themselves); however what is clear as a bright blue sky, is that the Google Cardboard App for Android is superior to its cousin over on iOS. Without boring you with endless specifics, the Android app offers support for your own videos and photos (including photosphere / 360 photos) as well as support for 360 & 3D YouTube, whereas the iOS app is restricted to just the demo content from Google and even that is less impressive than on the Android App. However that said, over my next few posts we’ll be exploring some 3rd party apps for iOS which more than make up for these differences and as I don’t have access to an Android device, I’ll be basing my examples around the iOS App(s) which you can run on either an iPhone or and iPod Touch.

Stepping outside of the cardboard discussion for just a moment, I recently had the pleasure of observing James Massey (@jmass100) and Caroline Hardman (@73caroline) delivering some Coding training sessions with teachers at Primary Schools in the UK. Both are wonderful teachers turned trainers and both applied the same technique when discussing the very ‘technical’ principle of coding; before letting pupils jump onto a PC they explored some of the underlying principles offline first, in order to build an understanding and to generate a level of excitement, which made the time pupils spent on the PCs far more productive.

Applying that same principle to Google Cardboard, I’ve come up with a very simple activity that will quickly demonstrate how Google Cardboard works (visually speaking) and will help to build valuable knowledge which will be very useful when it comes to creating your own 3D photos later.

Google Cardboard Introduction Activity
For this activity to work you will need a printed worksheet for each pupil. At least one Google Cardboard Headset, with a compatible device loaded with the Google Cardboard and YouTube apps. You’ll also need something to project on, with either an Apple TV or similar software such as AirServer installed, so that you can share the devices screen with your class.

Start by sharing your iPod or iPhone screen over AirPlay, so that your whole class can see the screen. Find a suitable 3D Video on the YouTube app (make sure it’s a split screen / side by side video) like ‘Ocean World 3D – Side By Side (SBS)’ which is on the 3D ‘n’ Play channel. On this specific video, you can jump straight to approximately 1:20, which is when the introduction and the more interesting underwater footage starts…. It will look something like this:

Dolphins

(If your school does not have access to YouTube, you can just google ‘3D Video Demo’ and look for something similar from a website which you have access too – or download this video at home and transfer onto your device.)

Explain that they need to remember as many things about the video as possible and that you’ll be asking them to say all the different things they’ve seen. Watch the video for around 30 seconds only, then pause it. There is no spoken audio so don’t worry too much if you don’t have speakers. Stop the video and ask your class what they have seen… by this time there should have been a school of fish, a diver and a few seconds of some dolphins and you’re likely to get all of these answers. If your class is really switched on then you might already have some questions about the split screen, if not then ask if there is anything unusual about the way this video is presented? Why are there two pictures? Are the images on the left and the right exactly the same? Why might there be two very similar, but slightly different images side by side?

Next bring out the cardboard headset, ask your class a few questions about what they think it is. Run the video again from where you paused and place the phone inside (taking care to line up the divide between the two halves on the screen with the physical divide in the headset). Having first checked yourself to see that it’s lined up correctly, ask for a volunteer to come and look through the headset. Ask them what they see… are there two different pictures still or just one? Is there anything special about the video they are seeing now? Can they describe it for the rest of the class.

Allow a few more students (or your full class) to have a little time watching the video through the headset. Now put the technology down and ask your class what they think happened when you put on the headset, why did two separate images seemingly become one? What does seeing in 3D mean? Can we only see in 3D in movies with special glasses, or do we always see the world around us in 3D? Now, time to do something physical to see if we can make some sense out of all this.

Google Cardboard Activity

Above I’ve included an example of a worksheet, but I imagine you’ll just want to make your own far better looking version. All you need is to print a worksheet with two boxes, one marked left eye and the other right eye. Write some instructions which explain that the task to find an object on the wall, like a light switch and stand directly in front of it, 1 step away from the wall. Alternatively you could place an object on a desk and ask pupils to rest their chin on the edge of the table, with the object about 30cm in front of them.

Now get everyone to hold their hand ontop of their heads (like a sharks fin – we’re underwater after all!) and then slowly bring your hand down, over your nose, so that the ‘fin’ is directly between your two eyes (separating your left and right eyes – it might be more comfortable to have your thumb under your chin and fingers pointing up). Next line your hand up with the exact middle of the light switch or object and take it in turns to close just your left and then your right eye and keep swapping between the two. Ask you class to draw the difference between what their left eye and right eye can see; I’m willing to bet that the result will look something like below:

ActivityResult

So what’s going on here? Well our two eyes see independently from each other and it’s our brain which combines the two different images and makes sense of them. Ask if your class can name and describe any other senses. Explain that sight is just one of our senses and that we also smell, taste, hear and touch. It’s our brains that that make sense of all of these things, including the way we see the world.

Ask your class some follow up questions like:

  • Humans are not the only creatures who have two eyes, which other animals can you think of that have two eyes (yes, the list is pretty endless!).
  • Why do so many animals have two eyes? Even fish and birds.
  • If an animal, such as a fish, has two eyes which point in different directions, how can they see in front of them?
  • Why is it important to be able to see in 3D, or to be able to judge how far away things are?
  • Can they think of any examples where having ‘depth perception’ might be useful on their way to school or in the playground?

Building Cardboard
Let’s get Google Cardboard out again. One of the reasons I love the idea of Google Cardboard so much is that apart from the fact it’s just cool, it’s also a great way to make fun and engaging use of existing technology. I see loads of schools who have bought class set of iPod touches, which are now mostly sat around doing not very much. Also if you’re working with older students then most if not all of them are likely to have their own smartphone, so why not let them use it? Regardless of whether you will have 1:1 Google Cardboard for this project or just a few to share, let’s turn the process of building a cardboard headset into a learning experience too.

Maybe ask your pupils to research their favourite artist and colour / paint their headset in that style. Think of their favourite character from a book or movie and decorate their headset along those lines and write a short story about that character, perhaps involving seeing something far away. Better yet, let your pupils ‘deconstruct’ your headset and then ask them to pretend that you are a computer (similar to the ‘Sandwich Bot’ video by Philip Bagge – YouTube it if you don’t know because it’s really funny and very clever) and they need to instruct you on how to re-assemble it. Give the class a few minutes to figure out how the flat-pack kit might fold together (be sure to let them know that you don’t need to bend, tear or rip anything – just fold along the existing lines). Now ask them to give you instructions that a computer might understand, highlight any mistakes like in the Philip Bagge video and get them to troubleshoot and debug their instructions.

Have fun with the process of creating the headsets. If you are building them from scratch or from kits, ask your pupils to think about how the design could be improved, identify and solve any problems with the headsets. Would a head-strap make it easier to use (most kits come with a head strap, but hide it until this point!). Is too much light creeping in at the sides, could you use sponge / foam to block out that light somehow? Is the phone moving around inside a little… what if you put a rubber band around the bottom of the headset where the phone sits, would that stop it moving so much? Is your nose too big (like mine is) to fit comfortably in the nose-piece, why not cut it bigger! Finally is it comfortable around the eyes and face, if not how could we make it more comfortable to use and wear?

Assuming you’ve come up with your own creative and awesome ways (please post a comment and let me know) to make the building process fun and informative, let’s move onto the final part of this entry and start to look at the Google Cardboard App itself.

The Google Cardboard App
As before, the Android app looks different and has more features. My guide below is based on the iOS app and as you come into Google Cardboard, you’ll be prompted to turn your phone onto it’s side and place into the cardboard viewer.

You’ll then be presented with a menu consisting of Tutorial, Explorer, Exhibit, Urban Hike and Kaleidoscope.

Tutorial – Pretty pointless on the iOS app, as you have two basic commands. 1) Select – When you are looking at an item you want to select, then use the magnetic button on the side of your headset to select it (by gently sliding the button down and allowing it to spring back up). 2) Back – to get back to the main menu at any point, simply tilt your device 90 degrees to the right.
I feel this is pointless as in order to access the tutorial, you’ll have already have had to have figured out the first point by yourself! If you don’t have a magnetic button, you can tap the screen but this is very hard once the device is inside the headset! If your set didn’t come with a magnetic button then these are easy to add yourself.

Explorer – Takes you into some 360 degree panoramic and 3D photographs of famous places. These include the American Museum of Natural History, the Frontiers of Flight Exhibition, the hanger for the Endeavour Space Shuttle, The caves of Cueva del Indo in Puerto Rico, the Gunnuhver Hot Springs in Iceland and finally an image from the Mars Spirit Rover. To cycle between the different panoramas, simply pull down and release the magnetic button and to get back to the homepage, tilt the device on its side.

Exhibit – Lets you view various different artefacts in 3D, including a rattle, lots of masks and finally a 3D model of a Google Cardboard headset.

Urban Hike – Takes you to Paris, stood right in front of the Eiffel Tower and works in the same way as the ‘Explorer’ section where you can look around you in any direction. Importantly this mode lets you ‘hike’ or walks as if you were using Google Street View. Using the button you can take steps forward and view the tower from different Angles. I’m yet to have the patience to test this fully, however, I believe there are no boundaries and that whilst you always start in exactly the same spot you can walk pretty much anywhere you want to.

Kaleidoscope – Starts with an image of the Google Logo and upon a button press, explodes into hundreds of blocks which start swirling like a Kaleidoscope. Further button presses will either pause or un-pause the action.

For the ‘official’ cardboard app, that’s pretty much it. Remember that the Android app is far more fully featured and that in theory, this App is just a proof of concept. The Android counter-part takes you on guided on-rails drives through famous cities and lets you bring in your own photos and videos to view through the headset and if you have Android devices, is well worth exploring.

In my next blog(s) I’ll cover some exciting 3rd party apps which either help you create your own Google Cardboard content or start to show off the full potential of this technology and demonstrate why I’m convinced that in one form or another, VR headsets are here to stay.

Thanks for sticking with me until the end, I know we’ve covered a lot there and I appreciate you staying with it. Your ‘homework’ is to come up with some ideas and techniques for using the official Google Cardboard App in the classroom. Perhaps on the ‘Virtual Paris Field Trip’ you could set some tasks to identify the time of year (what clues can you get from what people are wearing) and answer other questions like how many people are crossing the road. Maybe task pupils to find a sign in French and then translate it into English. Perhaps you could visit Mars and write a story about what it’s like and how it’s different to Earth.


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