In the final blog post of the series, the only remaining question is why does this all matter and where do we go from here? The door to the future in education, in my opinion, is slowly opening and so far our staff has been brave enough to peek through. As evidenced from this Google Expeditions Feedback survey, this project started as a concept with no defined place in the classroom and turned into a vital tool for a large portion of our staff. The teachers, once we framed it as a learning tool, were overwhelmingly positive and receptive. It got to a point where demand far exceeded supply and we had trouble keeping up with the requests. As any technology innovator hopes, this project not only became a transparent tool in the classroom but its adoption was being driven by the teachers and those are the people who matter the most. As for the students, of course they loved the idea of doing virtual reality in the classroom but what they didn’t realize was the impact it was going to have. Every single one of them had used VR in some context outside of school in the consumer space but none have them had learned with their classmates in a VR environment. It warmed my heart to see students smiling and excitedly pointing things out to one another over and over again. Then to meet those students weeks or months later and hearing them excitedly recollect what we saw together was incredible. Across the grade levels, from PreK to seniors in high school, every student had the same reaction and it was a feeling of awe and amazement. The smiles were happening with the learning regardless of the subject and this never changed throughout the school year.
Our district has taken this concept on the road several times in the past year trying to share this idea with as many people as possible. We presented with the NCCE this past spring at a Google Summit in Portland Oregon. This was a great opportunity to bring this to a table of people who are always looking to implement new tools in the classroom. It was also a good opportunity to try and get through airport security with 30 phones stored in a bright orange case. Presenting for the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls gave us a chance to talk to teachers from other districts nearby and to give them the confidence that they can do this too. Most recently, we started a conversation with the Idaho STEM Action Center in hopes that we can reach every student in the state with this idea. That’s really the point of all of this - to give every student these types of tools in their learning adventure. Speaking of that, this summer we participated in VR in the Park with the Bloom Truck here in Hailey Idaho. That was bringing VR to community kids during the summer in their neighborhoods. Volunteering with the Bloom Truck may have been the most powerful display of this tool yet and we look forward to partnering again next year. Lastly, we are on the list to beta test the new augmented reality portion of Google Expeditions which is slated to be released this fall.
As we look forward, the near term goal is to have this concept fully deployed in all of our schools. The demand is there so getting the hardware in place is the next step. The summer wind down will include preparing the hardware and the staff for this new tool this coming school year. As that moves along, being ready for the augmented reality portion of the Google Expeditions app is our next target. Including that new feature into the existing Google Expeditions app is paramount and a wildly good idea by Google. This will let any district with any size Expeditions kit to simply update the application and now their current hardware will use this entirely new learning method! After that, I want to focus as much attention as possible in sharing this idea and its impact across the State of Idaho. In every corner of the state there are students who do not have this tool and I want to change that.
As this series comes to a close, I am reminded of how much passion I have for this project. To be clear, it’s not the technology I am passionate. No, I am passionate about the impact this can have and has had to everyone I’ve experienced it with. I’ve seen students laugh together, teachers hearts reignited and entire classrooms united on an adventure outside their classroom. All of them will remember those experiences and I’m humbled that it’s my little project which has grown into such a momentous tool. Creating inspiration and joy in a classroom, to this point, remains my greatest professional accomplishment.