I’m co-designing a new Irish literature hybrid course 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.
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.
The purpose of using VR is to provide a sense of being there. It provides the viewer with the sense of being present within the 360 media. It removes the artifice of flattened images and stills. It serves as a virtual field trip for situated learning when actual travel is not a viable option.
Any VR device manufacturer and app will suffice; we selected the Google Cardboard as a low cost option. Our students will install the free Google Cardboard App on their smartphone. Those without a smartphone can tab through the 360 images on their desktop.
Unfortunately, the Google Cardboard app isn’t compatible with all phones! My husband tried to install it on his LG Android that’s only 2 years old, and it states it’s not 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).
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 (LMS) 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. 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. To avoid ruining your focal point, begin the first snap to the side of the main feature. The Cardboard camera photos are cylindrical. 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 Procedure
From your smartphone, access the linked content via the web or, in our instance, course page on the LMS app. 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. 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.
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.
Sandra Annette Rogers, Ph.D.