June 20, 2019 marked the culmination of months of planning  with professionals who focus on Equity and Access in education.  On this day, students in Napa County took the first ever Live Field Trip in 360 degree Virtual Reality to Angel Island that included participatory 2-way dialog.

Before I get too far into the details I must thank those involved in this monumental project.

The California Department of Parks and Recreation’s PORTS program, or Parks Online Resource for Teachers and Students.  Brad Krey, Erin Gates, John Clagett, and others spent the better part of a couple months site surveying, testing internet connectivity, checking gear, and most importantly agreed to this skeptical project in March.

Napa County Office of Education.  Barbara Nemko, Casey Wedding, and the school site provided the facility and enthusiastic students who participated in this project.  Barbara has supported me and my crazy idea early on and even agreed to have my first attempt at a Live VR Field Trip be a part of our presentation at the 2019 CISC, Curriculum and Instruction Steering Committee Symposium in February 2019.  In the presentation we placed an audience member in what we believe was the first Live 360 VR Field Trip with duplex audio with Angari, a West Palm, Florida based non-profit focused on ocean research and conservation.

Thank you all for your efforts in getting us to this point and for supporting future efforts.

What is a Live 360 VR Field Trip with duplex audio?

Have you ever been on a teleconference such as Skype, Zoom, or Google Hangouts?  A Live 360 VR Field Trip is exactly the same as a standard 2D teleconference except for the fact that the presenter or host camera is a 360 camera capable of being viewed in a VR headset.  Duplex audio is the ability to talk between the two locations as opposed to one way audio, traditionally found in a live 360 stream.

Why 360 VR vs. 2D?

With VR, Isolation = focus.  VR = engaging key critical core senses, hearing and sight and this sets the memory/experience into the users mind more effectively than other mediums.  A Live VR session gives agency, ownership, over where the user(student) is looking, it becomes participatory in more ways than a boxed session can provide, this is not to say that a standard teleconference session is bad in any way.  A VR field trip can be a life changing experience that brings equity to opportunity where there might not have otherwise been through a method that increased engagement, memory retention, and learning objectives.

As a busy teacher, what do I displace for this experience?

“Steven, what do I have to learn, replace, or displace for this amazing technology that you’re proposing we use?”  Answer, look at the inquiry model, as you prime students for a lesson or topic and would otherwise introduce them with a simple video, or other media/method, imagine if you could take them on a quick tour around the subject matter.  Are you studying the Wright Brothers first flight?  Perhaps a guided tour or even a 360 VOD, Video on Demand, tour of the plane that sits in the Smithsonian would be of value to allow the students that time to be inquisitive and become just familiar enough, primed, so that as you teach the content they’re minds are more receptive to the familiar material.  If you’re already doing this with other priming techniques, we believe that introducing topics through Virtual Reality provides a level of engagement that is beyond any methods we currently employ outside of physically being there, ie. an actual field trip to the Smithsonian to see the Wright Brothers plane, however, how practical is that as an inquiry piece?

So what happened on June 20th?

John, a California State Park Ranger, was on site at Angel Island with Brad, a historical gateway into the United States and official State Park, currently accessible by boat and located in the San Francisco Bay Area.  There he was setup with a 360 camera and began streaming to a cloud platform.

I simultaneously gave the students at the school in Napa an orientation around VR, while Erin, PORTS, and Barbara, Napa COE, assisted me with background on the students current knowledge and the state of immigration laws in the US.  Together we primed the students for the experience preparing them with what to expect but we had no idea how they would react.

The Trip!

The Live VR experience lasted roughly 15 minutes.  It included live interpretation of the facility by John and questions form the students that John answered without a break in the live immersive VR experience.  Four students began the field trip and it was silent, the students were noticipally engaged as we would see them looking around inquisitively.  The students were told they could ask questions of John during the event and one asked, “What was it like for immigrants there?”  After some delay (connectivity from the island we had less than 5Mbps up), yes we are pioneering here, John answered in detail.  As a part of the tour we planned to move the camera from it’s overall center of the room view up close to the wall where the students were able to see the graffiti scribed into the walls where Chinese immigrants had written things such as the length of time they were detained.

Four adults in the classroom supervised this event and each provided feedback around their observations of the event.  I noticed students extremely engaged in the activity and focus on the activity was high.  Barbara noted that when she put on the headset she was scared to walk for fear she would fall off a platform, she perceived herself higher up off the ground and she felt uncomfortable.  She asked the students how they felt about the experience and one student answered, that he felt like he was there.

The Evidence and more!

So what did we learn and where are we going?  While we can make observations and generalizations we must ask the students.  During the event 8 students were given the opportunity to experience the Live 360 VR Field Trip.  Each were anonymously surveyed and we’ve collected the data and have shared it here as the basis for on-going studies.  Below are some things the students noted in their surveys.

What was the most memorable part of the 360 VR field trip?

“Learning about the history of the island.”
“That we were kinda floating.”
“I like how we spoke to someone an hour away.”
“I was able to experience/visit a place where I probably won’t go.”

Do you prefer a traditional 2D of 360 VR field trip?

“I prefer traditional because while I enjoyed the VR field trip I like to actually be there and while I felt I was there I like to physically touch things.”
“I would prefer 360 VR to feel present being there.”
“I would be scared to move around.”
“It was really cool compared to 2D.”

What’s next?

Our next trip will take place in August or September and will involve the California Department of Parks and Recreation’s PORTS program, Cucamonga School District, and Live Planet.  This event will, should, see more than 25 students and additional faculty and staff in VR headsets all simultaneously viewing the same Live 360 VR Field Trip with a Park Ranger.  We look forward to the next event to gather more data and test the limits of the technology both from a practical and logistical standpoint considering teacher ease of deployment as well as gathering data around the benefits of VR, as defined above and observe in the Napa event for student learning outcomes.

Partners and Resources:

California Department of Parks and Recreation, PORTS program – http://www.ports.parks.ca.gov/
Napa County Office of Education – https://www.napacoe.org/
Cucamonga School District – https://www.cuca.k12.ca.us/
Live Planet – https://liveplanet.net/

Questions and comments?  Interested in a Live 360 VR Tour at your school?  Want to support us?  Please reach out!  steven.sato@gmail.com



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