VR with Google Cardboard for Irish Literature Hybrid Course

Google VR headset is made of cardboard
Google Cardboard comes premade and only needs refolding for use with smartphone.

I’m co-designing a new Irish literature hybrid course with an English professor and her teaching assistants (TA) where college students will use Google Cardboard with their mobile phone applications (app) for virtual reality (VR) experiences with 360 media. This is my first time preparing VR learning experiences, and I wanted to share what I’ve figured out so far. This is a work-in-progress in prep for spring quarter, so I’ll continue to return to this blog with updates as I learn more. [See postcript below.]

Course Description

The English course is lecture-based and will include other interactive technologies for blogging reflections, annotating text, and georeferencing sites. For their virtual travel blog, students will view selected areas in Ireland that are referenced in the literature and write a reflection. Our team will use both professionally made and self-produced 360 VR media of the Dublin environs that match specific instances described by Irish lyricists, poets, and writers. Here’s a professional VR example of Glendalough, an Irish monastic cemetery.

Purpose

VR provides the viewer with the sense of being present within 360 media. It removes the artifice of flattened images (stills). It can serve as a virtual field trip for situated learning when actual travel is not a viable classroom option. Google Cardboard is a low-cost and user-friendly VR option for educational use.

Technologies

Devices and apps. Any VR device and app will suffice. Google Cardboard is a one-size-fits-all, low cost, VR device so large phones may stick out of the edges but not interfere with the viewing experience. Those without a smartphone can tab through the 360 images on their desktop.

Our students will install the free Google Cardboard App on their smartphone. Unfortunately, this app isn’t compatible with all phones! A friend installed it on his LG Android that’s only 2 years old, and it stated it wasn’t compatible. Here are industry recommendations:  “In general, Cardboard apps and games will work with any Android 4.1 or above phone and even iPhones, as long as they’re running iOS 8 or above” (3G, 2019, para. 12). 

VR images and platform hosts. We’re using the free Google Cardboard camera app to capture spherical VR images and videos. It’s fairly easy to use and share images between smart devices. However, sharing VR media in a course setting presents a challenge, as it requires a VR hosting platform to view. Our learning management system uses Kaltura for video hosting, which states that it supports 360 video for VR interactions. So far, it’s not working. Our workaround is to use a free basic account with 360cities.net to host our VR media for the course. Of note, keep the full size of your original VR image, as reducing the size corrupts (flattens) it.

I practiced capturing photos with the Google Cardboard Camera app. It instructs you to hold the phone vertically and snap the photo and rotate 360 degrees with your phone to capture your surroundings. I noticed that by focusing on the main object with the first snap, you’re left with a slightly visible vertical line where the images don’t match up. Therefore, to avoid ruining your focal point, begin the first snap to the side of the main feature. The Cardboard camera photos are cylindrical, which means they don’t capture the ground or sky above. You’ll see blue for sky and grey for ground, but there’s a distinct line between the image and artifice.

VR Viewing Procedures

The experience will feel as if you’re there instead of looking at a picture. The intended VR experience should provide situated cognition of the environs and, as is the case with our course, neural connections to the topic of study. Follow these steps to view images from your device:

  1. From your smartphone, access the linked content via the web or, in our instance, course page on the LMS app.
  2. Select the icon for VR to enable it. Then place the phone in the Google Cardboard device. You may need to remove your phone’s protective case for it to fit.
  3. Some VR experiences include annotated media. The Google Cardboard device has a metal button on it that you use to select projected annotations.

The mobile app also comes with some great examples from around the world. Right now, I’m reviewing Irish content readily available on the free Google Expeditions app that provides both VR and augmented reality (AR) experiences. If you have experience with any of the aforementioned technologies, or want to suggest related ones, please leave a comment below.


P.S. The delivery of this hybrid course was impacted by the pandemic, and we quickly modified the in-person lectures to a combination of prerecorded instructor videos and live instructor and TA lecture sessions. Additionally, we added asynchronous discussion boards for each TA to provide the weekly annotation assignment on Google Docs for students and to discuss the literature. See the course results on the students’ WordPress blog of their virtual diaries and culminating annotation group project, a Field Guide to Dublin’s environs, history, and literature. I look forward to debriefing with the professor and TAs to inform the course (re)design of future offerings.

Sandra Annette Rogers, Ph.D.


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