VR field trips

GC professor Dr. Chris Greer (left) and graduate student Hannah Jones (right) set up their virtual reality camera used for creating VR field trips for students and the public.

A two-person team at Georgia College has been busy these last 18 months creating content for a very large audience. 

Dr. Chris Greer, GC professor of instructional technology, and Hannah Jones, his graduate assistant working towards a master’s degree, are developing virtual reality (VR) field trip experiences that allow K-12 students to visit well-known sites without leaving their classrooms. The grant-funded project already has its own YouTube page (Virtual Reality Georgia) and a solid foundation of popular field trip destinations with more on the horizon.

“It’s a burgeoning market,” Greer said of VR. “It’s in some classrooms, but it’s not widespread yet. The costs are coming down. You could roll in a cart like you would with Chromebooks or iPads with 20 Oculus Go’s on it, put them on the students and take them someplace. We think that’s going to become much more common in the coming five years, so we will have the places for them to visit once they have those headsets.”

The duo has filmed VR field trips to Georgia’s Old Governor’s Mansion, Andalusia, the Flint Riverquarium and others. The process involves a 360-degree panoramic camera that shoots in 3D and 8K (very clear) resolution, all in the name of further immersing students and others who opt for the experience. Tour guides speak to the camera as if they are leading a regular tour group through their historic landmark or educational locale.

The goal is not to replace regular school field trips, but rather to increase access to these desired locations for schools that cannot physically get their students there.

“When I talk to audiences that aren’t real familiar with the technology, I liken it to the iPhone 1 or 2,” Greer said. “It’s got a ‘wow’ factor. It has evolved very significantly in terms of processing power, screen and apps that can be run. I feel like that’s going to be the case with VR as well.”

The video field trips do not have to be viewed through VR goggles, though that method is more immersive than watching the YouTube video on a regular computer screen. The best part is that these field trips are available to students for free. 

As someone in the field of instructional technology, Greer monitored virtual reality’s rise in popularity and quickly brainstormed ideas for application inside the classroom.

“When VR was first making into inroads into consumer electronics, it was expensive and primarily used for gaming,” he said. “But I was still keeping up with the technology blogs, and it was very compelling to hear the stories about how immersive the experience is, how you feel like you can be transported to another place and truly feel like you’re there. I began my research and read up on the available headsets, cameras and infrastructure for virtual reality. Once those headsets arrived, I knew they needed content to digest and consume. I thought it would be a really cool project to bring some really educational and historically significant places here in Georgia into the classroom.”

Greer wrote a grant through Georgia College, which was awarded, and used the funding to purchase the professional virtual reality camera that is actually six individual cameras placed on the same plane around an orb. Jones came on board as an instructional technology grad student, and the two set off on securing field trip locations around the state. 

The project took an exciting turn in November when Greer was presenting on it in Atlanta. Georgia Public Broadcasting (GPB) officials took notice and launched into a discussion with the GC professor. GPB had been doing a similar project, so the two put their heads together.

“We’ve established this partnership where they’re going to distribute the content we’ve already created through their channels,” Greer said. “They have an app that runs on the Oculus Go headset as well as their website, which has quite a large reach. That’s really going to help us as far as getting our content to a broader audience, and it’s going to help them because we’ve visited locations they haven’t.”

More locations have been filmed and are waiting to be uploaded while others are being secured for the future to give students, as well as the general public, better access to popular educational tourist destinations

“It’s an ongoing project,” said Dr. Greer. “We’re only limited by where we’re allowed to film. Some places are a little more apprehensive about us coming in and making their site available to view for free online. At the end of the day, we make no money off this at all. This is all about providing some, I think, valuable and compelling resources to students all around the state and beyond. I’m excited to see what lies ahead.”

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