To the Moon and back with Google Expeditions

James Hopkins

Having taught and led ICT in a challenging area in North London for four years, James Hopkins moved to New Zealand in 2010 and took up an ICT leadership position in a mid-decile school. He then spent two years building technology use and integration throughout the school using a range of short and long-term, personalised professional development programmes. Moving to a decile 10 school in 2012, James undertook the development of Modern Learning Environments and Modern Learning Practice across a variety of year groups. James’ passion lies in MLP and connecting via a variety of social media outlets.

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Website: ewonderings.edublogs.com Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Today I saw something amazing! I watched in awe (and travelled with) a group of 30 students to the moon. Crystal clear, fully immersed and wandering the craters, with colleagues and children next to me sharing their excitement. I am, of course, talking about Google Expeditions. If ever there was a positive retort to the relentless technology bashing in the online world, this is it. Not the visual experience. Not even the chance to see something that most of us will never truly experience in our lifetime. It was the awe and wonder created through the digitally convergent experience. It has been many years since I’ve seen the spark in the eyes of EVERY child in the room (after they’d removed their Google Cardboard glasses, of course).


 

YouTube link


One comment I heard was “Miss Archer, did you know the footsteps won’t go away because there’s no air in space.” An instant example of sharing prior knowledge and understanding, spurred by the access to technology, the entertainment provided and an experience that stemmed from Google’s 20% Time. At the click of a button we found ourselves at the Taj Mahal, students connecting to the experience and linking to Diwali. Cohesion, curriculum, convergence, collaboration and astonishing (I couldn’t find another word that began with C!). The freedom to explore something amazing, with your best friend in tow, laughing, chatting and sharing. Relating to others? Check.


The NZ government recently commissioned a green paper to explore digital convergence with Communication and Broadcasting minister Amy Adams, who was quoted as saying “How we communicate, do business and access information and entertainment is changing rapidly. Streaming on demand content on a smartphone or getting our news on the web is the new normal.” The ‘new normal’, and yet the naysayers remain staunch in their active deconstruction of technology in schools.


“Today’s students – K through college – represent the first generations to grow up with this new technology. They have spent their entire lives surrounded by and using computers, videogames, digital music players, video cams, cell phones, and all the other toys and tools of the digital age.” (Prensky, 2001)


Prensky goes on to say that the average college graduate from 2001 had spent just 5,000 hours reading, but 10,000 hours playing video games and 20,000 hours watching television! Note that the research is 14 years old. Technology, education, experience, consumer electronics and entertainment have conclusively converged to expose learners of today to a variety of opportunities previously unimaginable. In an hour I watched 90 students experience something entirely magical in a world of powerful imagery and access to information. Can you imagine the powerful writing that fed into this experience and the depth as a result? Virtually all of these students blog, and I would urge you to explore their writing as a result of this.

"The freedom to explore something amazing, with your best friend in tow, laughing, chatting and sharing."

The students I watched today walked on the moon, toured the Taj Mahal, explored the coral reefs of the Pacific, wandered caves in Slovakia, strolled the Galapagos Islands, trekked the rainforest and shared, laughed and communicated all the way through. Their experiences were hasty and guided by some very clever software. It goes without saying that access to this technology for longer than a day could mean in depth analysis and exploration of one area, feeding the learning and experiences of the students and stemming some incredible thinking. Their time constraints today made them purely consumers and explorers, but just imagine the possibilities with regular access.


Another significant impact for educators may be in the development of personalised learning pathways, not the predetermined sorts of ‘adaptive’ software we’ve seen in the past, but more intuitive and responsive to the mix of the learners’ current location, level of progress, availability of support etc upon which a highly tailored set of outcomes and feedback may be established and monitored.” (Retrieved from CORE Education)


Personalisation through facilitated but life-changing experiences, without leaving the school grounds, is no small feat. Nothing will ever replace the true experience of touching the stalagmites in the World Heritage Caves in Slovakia, but for this decile one school in Central West Auckland, this could well be the catalyst to get them there.


You're surrounded, it’s like you're actually inside the place. You can see every single detail. I felt scared and excited, something I don’t think I would feel just researching.” - Shreya, nine years old

For those that view the convergence of technology as an unambiguous, neoliberal project of indoctrination, I urge them to spend a day in the life of their child. Many of the hurdles stem from the active decision to retain a fixed mindset and expect their children to think as they do. Just once, wouldn’t it be nice if they thought more like their children?

Do you use such edtech? Share your experiences in the comments below.

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