From Content Consumers to Content Creators

Google Expeditions and Virtual Reality (VR) are shaping the future of students in Blaine County School District. Paul Zimmerman, the district’s Technology Innovator put together a Google Expedition kit in October of 2016, and now has two kits that are shared across the Blaine County School District.

One of the motivators for introducing this technology in the classroom was to improve student engagement with the curriculum, and academic language. VR is a way to supplement to the information students are learning about. Rather than replacing the content, it enhances the knowledge that they are given. Since their introduction, the kits have been in high demand across the district.

Teachers in the district are thrilled with the changes they are seeing, and ask for the kit and design their schedule on it’s availability. When asked what changes could be seen in Blaine County students since introducing VR Zimmerman said,

From the beginning, everything about VR meant engagement. The students now ask for the VR as a part of their lessons and therefore crave that engagement. When the students know VR will be integrated into their lessons, they are excited and ready to learn. And we often hear about kids who are out sick that day being really disappointed because they missed it.

The VR kit(s) have been used at every school and at every grade level to the point that I won't see my VR kit for weeks as it roams the district. The changes in the classroom are widespread and diverse. For example, with VR being an integrated part of our toolset, teachers now plan for the VR in the classroom the same way they would plan for any other tool for teaching (rulers, books, Bunsen burners). Additionally, teachers are now exploring the idea of using our VR kit for not only VR but also YouTube 360 videos. In fact, some teachers will go abroad and take 360 degree videos and then share them with students when they get back!

Students throughout the district have become accustomed to experiencing VR as part of the curriculum, and now a group of students have taken the next step - VR content creation for Google Expeditions. Paul Zimmerman and Blaine County School District were selected for the Google Expedition Tour Builder Beta and the students created the first Google Expedition published outside of Google! With the theme ‘Love Where You Live’, students chose the Wood River Valley for their first expedition submission. A couple weeks later students then presented the Expedition to Hailey Rotarians, and explained what they had learned and loved about the experience. These students aren’t stopping there! Armed with the beta Expedition Tour Builder until the end of the school year the students are now focusing on building a ski hill exploration Expedition, and hope to find time for a third Expedition.

There is no doubt that since introducing K-12 students and classrooms, students have only benefitted. We asked Zimmerman what has surprised him most about the consumer to creator process, and he had this to say.

I think the biggest surprise was the level of ownership the kids had in all of this. When they created the Expedition of the valley with me, they were essentially researching places they see everyday in our community. BUT - putting time into the VR version caused them to own the content and be invested in it. During the reveal, they were floored and that's the power of this VR in the classroom - making everyday things exciting again.

He also notes that there’s been a positive change in the teachers as well. Some have gone from ‘I’m not into that’ to ‘When can I use this again’, others have had their passion for teaching reignited, and that teachers are inspiring each other using this tool. Zimmerman says that “It's been astounding and is the absolute most rewarding project I've ever been a part of.

We can’t wait to see what they are going to do next with VR!

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