Jennifer-HollandGoogle’s overarching mission is to organize all of the world’s information, and so it’s a natural fit for the company to be one of the leading innovators for using VR for immersive education. Google Expeditions was born out of a hackathon soon after the Google Carboard launched back at Google I/O 2014, and it’s since been shared with over 2 million students who have gone on virtual field trips. At I/O last week, the company had Tango demos that showed me just how compelling augmented reality is going to be in the future of collaborative & embodied educational experiences.


I had a chance to catch up with Daydream’s Education Program Manager, Jennifer Holland, at Google I/O where we talked about the history of Expeditions, and how successful it’s been in creating new levels of immersion and engagement with students. She talks about how the Expedition experiences are designed to be agnostic to any specific age or subject matter, but also independent of specific teaching strategy or philosophy.

Google has been rapidly iterating on creating useful tools that are immediately useful for teachers to introduce immersive experiences into their lesson plan, and there’s a lot that is left up to the teacher to be able to guide and direct the interactions and group learning exercises.

Holland also talks about some of the tools that have been built into expeditions, as well as the feedback that is driving the future of immersive education towards shared augmented reality experiences with Tango-enabled devices.

One of Google’s biggest strengths in the VR community is cultivating mental presence by using open web technologies to fuse together information about our world so that we can experience it in a new way. Google Earth VR is a perfect example of fusing many different sources of data about our world, and providing an entirely new immersive experience of it in VR.

Right now, Google’s Expeditions team and their collaborators are the only ones who are creating educational experiences, but they’d like to eventually make it easier at some point for people to create their own Expeditions. The Google Expeditions team announced during their Google I/O session that they’ve been using Mozilla’s WebVR framework, A-Frame, in order to rapidly prototype Expeditions experiences in VR, and Unity to prototype experiences in AR.

For Google, the Future of VR Is on the Open Web with WebVR & WebAR

I expect that WebVR and WebAR technologies will be a critical part of Google’s VR & AR strategies, as they’re helping to drive the standardization process with the work of WebVR primary spec author Brandon Jones. AR has the advantage over VR that the students faces aren’t occluded, and so there is a bit more collaborative learning and interaction between students, which you can see from this video of Expeditions AR:

My direct experience of seeing the Tango AR experiences at Google I/O is that the 6DoF inside out tracking is so good that it’s possible to feel a sense of virtual embodiment as you walk around virtual objects locked in space. I haven’t been able to experience this level of quality tracking in phone-based AR before, and so it was really surprising to feel how immersive it was. You’re able to completely walk around virtual objects, which triggers a deeper level of embodied cognition in being able to interact and make sense of the world by moving your body.

Embodied Cognition is the idea that we don’t just think with our minds, but that we use our entire bodies and environments to process information. I feel that the world-locking capabilities of the Tango-enable phones start to unlock the unique affordances of embodied cognition that usually comes with 6DoF positional tracking, and it was a lot more compelling that I was expecting it to be. But after seeing the Tango demos, I feel confident in saying that AR is going to be a huge part of the future of education.

The Google Cardboard or Daydream hasn’t generated a lot of excitement from the larger VR community as they’re seen as the gateway immersive experiences to have higher-end, PC-driven experiences. But Google’s ethic of rapidly iterating and creating a minimum viable products that are highly scalable has given them over two years of direct experiences of innovating with immersive education. They’ve been able to reach over 2 million students, and they’ve also been doing a number of research pilot studies with these VR expeditions. Google researchers Matthew Kam and Jinghua Zhang presented some of their preliminary research at the IEEE VR Embodied Learning Workshop in March, and you see some of the highlights in this Twitter thread, including work that’s happening to create an immersive education primer for Circle Center.

I’m really excited to see how Google continues to innovate with immersive education, and you can look forward to seeing a solo version of Expeditions on Daydream that will be released soon that features guided tours, history lessons, and science explainers. What Google is finding is that Expeditions is not just for students, but also adults for casual and continuing education, enterprises for training applications, and even Major League Baseball have started to explore how to use immersive education experiences to engage audiences in a new way. At the end of the day, Google is showing that if you want to expand your mind and learn about the world, then Daydream & Expeditions are going to have some killer apps for you.

For more information on embodied cognition, then be sure to check these previous interviews:

You can watch the full Google Expeditions session from Google I/O.

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  • guest

    One handfull of ping-pong balls thrown in a room of kids with these would put an end to this idea!

  • Guest2

    Check out Occipital and their new Bridge engine.