Alongside history, geography is the most common thought of subject to benefit from the introduction of virtual reality in education. Field trips are great for bringing geography to life but they are not always feasible and in a lot of circumstances they are simply too expensive for schools to organise. VR has the potential to break down these barriers and provide pupils with experiences similar to a field trip but without the restrictions. This article aims to provide an insight into how VR can be used to benefit the teaching of geography and also provide some practical suggestions for how you can embed it into your classroom.
Firstly, how can you get started with VR? Depending on the age group that you teach and the rules within your school, VR can be relatively inexpensive. If you teach in a secondary school, where most students have their own phones, you’re already half way there. You can purchase VR headsets for smartphones relatively cheap (ranging from £1 for cardboard headsets to £30 for a decent plastic one) and then you’re ready to go! I’ve included some suggestions below for what apps you can download for helping with geography.
What Apps Are Available?
One of my favourite apps for geography is Google Street View. Free to download on the Play Store and App Store, Google Street View allows you to choose any destination from around the world and you have the option to view it in 360 VR. Imagine that you are teaching about Mount Fuji as a case study during a topic on volcanoes and you have the ability to ‘virtually’ transport your pupils there. Imagine that you are teaching about the favelas in Rio de Janeiro during a topic on urbanisation and you have the option of providing an aerial viewpoint.
Another app that is really helpful for geography is Google Expeditions. Although not solely focused on geography, Google Expeditions has over 1000 different topics to choose from. You can take your pupils to various cities and landmarks across the world as well as focus on specific topics in relation to geography such as coasts, rivers, volcanoes and globalisation.
The Future of VR for Geography
Not only does VR have the ability to ‘virtually’ transport people to various places across the world but we can also create our own virtual reality experiences. For example, if you go on a field trip with your students you can take 360-degree photos and videos, which you can then share with others through virtual reality headsets. Creating your own VR experiences opens up a number of opportunities; for example, your students could present their findings through VR and even share VR experiences with other schools. A great app to get started with is Tour Creator; this program was created by Google and it’s a great platform for creating VR experiences for the classroom.
VR is a great teaching aid for geography and it’s only going to become more and more popular. To get started, check if any of your pupils have mobile phones compatible with VR, and if so, purchase a few headsets to experiment with. The apps recommended in this article are a good starting point and don’t require any investment.