A description of the grant
What if we could create an immersive environment for students to enrich their learning experience? What if when they step into the classroom, they could enter another country? We cannot take students on weekly field trips around the world, but we can provide them an alternative. With projectors, Google Earth and motion controls, we can bring the world to our students by immersing them in a virtual world. My project consists of four projectors that shine images on three walls in the classroom. Anything that can be shown on a computer can be projected onto the walls of the classroom. GoogleEarth allows students to visit places on earth and be surrounded by the place. Virtual tours allow students to walk through the halls of a museum or the White House without leaving the classroom. We are able to project four different images on three walls, or simply create a movie theater experience for videos in the classroom. The purpose of the technology is to help students activate background knowledge, create new connections, and promote engagement through novelty and variety.
What happened over the course of the grant?
In the Fall of 2015, we experimented with equipment and different software. These issues were resolved by December of 2016, when we settled on using no special software for the project and treat the projectors as different monitors. This enabled us to start using the system in earnest in January of 2016. Since then, I have developed several lessons using the design qualities that enable me to support student learning and make the most of the technology. However, the true value of the project is in how we use it on most days, to travel the world, learn, work, share experiences and collaborate.
What you learned
Initially, I wondered if having the system would necessitate big changes in my teaching practices. However, this fear was unfounded. The system is so intuitive and easy to use that using it was not cumbersome. In fact, the system disappeared into the background, and the images themselves took over. My teaching has become more supportive of different learning modalities on a daily basis. Having the technology causes me to think about how I can use it, and this in turn causes my lessons to be more engaging and fully developed.
Recommendationsa. Establish it into a smaller, common space, so teachers can schedule their classes into it. Right now, a few teachers have worked with me to schedule classes in my room when I have lab days. I wonder if teachers would use it more if the room were multi-purpose and more centrally located.
b. Help teachers identify lessons that would be enhanced by GoogleEarth and other visual content. Teachers may be initially discouraged, thinking that the system is more complicated than it really is and the lessons require more planning.
The project is scalable. All it takes is a room, three or four projectors (depending on the size of the room), and a computer with a strong video card. Every school should have at least one of these rooms because of the possibilities for student engagement and experiential learning.
I am deeply grateful for the opportunity the Institute for Innovation gave me to make what I envisioned for my students a reality. Students are not aware that they are learning when they see things with their own eyes and are able to draw their own conclusions. The project allows us to expand and experience the world beyond our walls every day.