Virtual reality ‘field trips’ for students created by Georgia College team

Virtual reality ‘field trips’ for students created by Georgia College team

Greer works with the 360-degree camera
Greer works with the 360-degree camera

T eachers face a host of challenges to engage students in the classroom. With new technology at their fingertips, children crave innovative ways of learning. 

Georgia College professor of Instructional Technology Dr. Chris Greer hopes to bring new opportunities for students to learn topics like science and history using virtual reality (VR). 

His YouTube channel, Virtual Reality Georgia, brings sites across the state to life—one of the first to highlight locations in Georgia using VR.

“The end game is to have sites from all over Georgia,” said Greer. “From state parks to museums, we hope to make these sites available to K-12 teachers and students as well as the general public.”
Using a 360-degree camera, Greer and his graduate assistant Hannah Jones visit locations like the Ocmulgee Indian Mounds, the Old Governor’s Mansion, Smithgall State Park in Helen and Cumberland Island. 

“For the videos, we look for the most engaging spot whether that means next to an animal habitat, a wide angle of a mansion or placed to see as much of the room as possible,” said Jones, a 2018 special education graduate from Georgia College who is now pursuing her master’s degree in instructional technology. “We try to tell every guide to talk to the camera like a group of students in third grade.”

You can watch the videos without VR goggles, but the experience is much more immersive if you use them. VR isn’t new technology, yet not all students have access to the goggles in the classroom. Greer believes that will change as schools continue to find innovative ways for children to learn. 

“I was talking to the head of technology at a public school system in the state recently. He said they’ve got a new grant for technology, and, instead of just Chromebook carts, they want to do a VR headset cart,” said Greer. 

“Teachers will roll in a cart, and say ‘let’s go somewhere,’ and everyone will put on the goggles,” he said. “I think once that happens across the state, it will become kind of like a watershed moment for VR where suddenly you’ve got students using these headsets quite frequently in the school. You need content for them, and that’s where our content will fit in.”

The team captured footage from a controlled burn.
The team captured footage from a controlled burn.

Last fall, Greer presented the project at a conference and was approached by Georgia Public Broadcasting (GPB) to collaborate. 

“The folks at GPB are doing something similar, and they said ‘we needed to get together on this,’” said Greer. “They’ve got a whole team dedicated to it. They’ve been out filming similar projects and have even put together lesson plans and other material for virtual field trips for teachers and students to use.”

Now the videos Greer and Jones put together will be featured on GPB’s virtual field trips website.  

“This helps us get our content out to a broader audience quickly,” Greer said about the GPB partnership. “They have a common goal— it’s all about access to benefit education in Georgia.” 

For Jones, technology like the 360-degree camera is relatively new, but through opportunities at Georgia College in the classroom and her graduate assistantship, she’s been pushed to learn more.

“Technology has not always been my friend, so to begin with, I was a little worried about being surrounded by the amount of technology,” she said. “I have learned an enormous amount over the last two years.” 

Greer and Jones taught themselves how to operate the 360-degree camera as well as the editing software. Through the process, they learned other tricks—like the camera does not do well with heat and the importance of crisp audio with no interference. 

Graduate student Hannah Jones (right) works with Greer on the Virtual Reality Georgia project.
Graduate student Hannah Jones (right) works with Greer on the Virtual Reality Georgia project.

“I wanted to work with Dr. Greer on Virtual Reality Georgia because I knew this was brand new technology and that it could help educators and students around the state. I also wanted to experience a different side of education,” said Jones

Greer’s hobbies of photography and a love of travel coupled with his focus on technology in education led him to start the VR project.

He’s also created a digital textbook with Apple on Georgia State Parks and will soon publish a travel book on Georgia, which he both wrote and did the photography for. But for Greer, the biggest win is for his students and students across the state to have a learning opportunity through technology. 

“Dr. Greer has been a great mentor in my life,” said Jones. “He has pushed me to explore different opportunities during my degree such as taking a graphic design course and a photography course. Working with him on this project has been an absolutely wonderful experience, and I am beyond grateful that I have had this opportunity.” 

A new grant will help create a space for Greer and students in the College of Education to use this and other cutting edge technology. 

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