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  • Bryne Stothard

Google Earth VR & the PEW Innovation Assessment Model

Learning Progressive (LP1-LP3)

1. Allows for workplace and future ready learning.

It could be argued that any use of room scale VR (as of writing in 2020) could be viewed as workplace relevant. Google Earth VR demands fairly sophisticated and yet intuitive use of the VR handsets for navigation and user interface. As can be seen here during this demo in early 2017, the skills can be picked up quite easily.

“You’ll see a preview of the 360° photo within a sphere on your controller hand. As you fly low over city streets, you can see the preview sphere update as you glide along. You can also stick your head in the preview bubble to peer into the Street View photo, pull your head out and you’re back in Earth VR” (VR Scout 2017).

The skill of navigating whilst in VR - is a skill that students entering the sales, engineering and entertainment industries (among many others) are likely to be using in the near future. The other, more direct link to future ready and workplace learning is in the use of Google Maps - a technology that has largely replaced paper maps altogether. Paper maps still have a largely ceremonial role in the IB and A Level exams and curriculum. A search for ‘Digital’ within the IB Geography Subject Guide, garners only one result “Appropriate resources for an extended essay in geography could include … digital landscape simulations: videos; geographic information systems (GIS); diagrams and models”. The use of Google Maps and why a learner might need to use them, is still largely not explicitly embedded into traditional measures of assessment. The justification for the ⅔ rating for LP1, is largely due to this clear and direct link to an incredibly useful and powerful tool that traditional methods of assessment do not explicitly cover.

2. Allows for learner interest and learner choice.

Where this particular app comes into its own, is through taking existing pedagogy and content, and then opening it up to student voice and choice. Technology has been promising since the 2000s to take students on ‘virtual field-trips’, but that has largely meant point and click adventures or films that have enhanced interactivity embedded within them. Google Earth VR allows learners to visit both the rendered/poly versions of places they are curious about studying or to move around an immersive snapshot of these places via the ‘StreetView’ VR facility (Geography Photo Essay Lyme Regis Case Study) .

The immersiveness can be shared with other learners via a TV or projector, and in the experience of the author leads to very rich discussion and exploration. Existing projects and student driven work can be enriched enormously by integrating Google Earth VR within them, especially if learners choose to use this technology. An example displaying this in another area of knowledge is from The Arts at FIS. The image below highlights a project students designed in collaboration with their teacher. The aim was to facilitate voice and choice, in improving an existing requirement from the curriculum to learn 2 point perspective.

3. Allows for robust transdisciplinary skills and behaviours.

The maneuverability of the app allows for clear connections between the ‘real world’, curriculum and many common learner characteristics we find in the learner attributes they require from their community. The ability to endlessly research the photorealistic, 3D and navigable versions of cities requires learners to develop nuanced research skills in both the context of their own lives and the ‘virtual’ locations they can visit in Google Earth VR. The casting of the image they are looking at to the audience via a TV allows for rich discussion skills to be built, plus requires critical thinking from those watching to help guide the learner in VR to search for evidence and problem solve. This evidence can then be used to create a systematic and detailed presentation of different perspectives and more thoroughly justified thought.

Learning Effective (LE1-E3)

1. Allows for mastery of the curriculum

Within the field of the Humanities there are direct through lines to the curriculum. Broader aims for the studies of Individuals and Societies are to “encourage the systematic and critical study of: human experience and behaviour; physical, economic and social environments;” (IBO 2017) and “promote the appreciation of the way in which learning is relevant to both the culture in which the student lives, and the culture of other societies” (IBO 2017). There are even more specific links to the aims and assessment objectives embedded within the study of IB Geography “Identify and interpret geographic patterns and processes in unfamiliar information, data and cartographic material” and “develop an understanding of the dynamic interrelationships between people, places, spaces and the

environment at different scales” (IBO 2017).

Within the Visual Arts we can find direct curriculum links also “Students experiment with diverse media and explore techniques for making art. Students develop concepts through processes that are informed by skills, techniques and media.” (IBO 2020*).

*IBO.ORG website, Study visual arts | Diploma | International Baccalaureate® - International Baccalaureate® (Available at:, Last accessed 17th January 2020)

2. Allows for improvement under traditional educational metrics

When examining the top mark band (9-10 marks) for IB Geography “External Assessment Markbands—SL and HL” (IBO 2017), one can see direct impacts that can be drawn from using Google Earth VR to enhance IB Case Study work. To earn the top mark bands a student must demonstrate that “Detailed evidence (that is, facts, statistics, examples or theories) are integrated….” (IBO 2017).

Students using Google Earth VR as a research tool for such case study work can walk around the places they are studying, see street signs, advertisements...etc and then utilise them in their writing. The use of Google Earth VR to stimulate content/concept and context based discussion also facilitates “detailed presentation of ideas, cause and effect relations, other perspectives; strengths and weaknesses of evidence” (IBO 2017).

The ‘centres model’ (pg18. Stothard 2017) can be used pedagogically to structure the research in a way that allows learners to benefit from the vast amount of choice they have over sorting through the evidence. The 3/3 score for LE2 is largely justified via the learning outcomes and impacts that the author has observed over the previous 3 years of using VR as a learning tool. The research into providing statistical evidence for these links is emerging and the author has contributed to upcoming reports produced by the Immersive Learning Research Network

3. Supports core disciplinary knowledge

Learners at Frankfurt International School have used the tools within Google Earth VR extensively to explore “core-periphery patterns and megacity growth”, “The effects of global climate change on places, societies and environmental systems” and “The water–food–energy “nexus” and how its complex interactions affect: 1. National water security, including access to safe water 2. National food security, including food availability 3. National energy security, including energy pathways and geopolitical issues” (IBO 2017).

With Google Earth VR offering the chance to explore vast areas of the planet in photo realistic detail (Street View VR), there are many links to core disciplinary knowledge. These links are relatively easily made explicit once learners gain a familiarity and command of working in VR. These links also drive towards broader learning goals associated with core disciplinary knowledge “require students to demonstrate higher order thinking rather than simple factual recall” (IBO 2017*).

Where the author has worked with teachers in other Areas of Knowledge (The Arts, PYP and Middle Years Humanities), Google Earth VR has been connected first to specific projects (see ‘2 point perspective project’ in LP2) and then, where capacity and competency allows, to other areas of core disciplinary knowledge. Such projects act as a positive feedback loop to increase learner capacity and competency in using this tool and therefore allowing the tool to be used to support further core knowledge within that discipline.

*website, IBO.ORG. Study visual arts | Diploma | International Baccalaureate® - International Baccalaureate®. Available at:, Last accessed 17th January 2020

Learning Wellbeing (LW1-LW3)

1. Learners demonstrate growth and appropriate levels of balance across the social-emotional domain.

It is the view of the author that the use of Google Earth VR has demonstrated fairly compelling evidence of emotional impact. The reflections below are related to the experiences that learners (parents, teachers and students) have had when experiencing Google Earth VR for the first time in an academic context.

Other areas of evidence from the authors experience of using Google Earth VR as a collaborative tool, is in the demonstrated impact that the collaborative nature of using the tool has on oral communication, effective listening and empathy. The immersive nature of working with this tool leaves the primary user vulnerable to their colleagues, one of whom is assigned as the primary carer (Centres Model) for the student wearing the headset. The role of the other learners is also to ask questions and use the evidence collected via VR, to guide the student wearing the headset and delve deeper into the place of study.

To a certain extent, the regular use of Google Earth VR within classrooms helps drive self-management skills, including both organisational skills, such as managing time and tasks, and affective skills, such as managing state of mind and motivation. The development of these skills plays a crucial role in supporting the IB’s mission to develop active, compassionate and lifelong learners. Although these skills areas are presented as distinct categories, there are close links and areas of overlap between them, and these categories should be seen as interrelated.

2. Learners engage with their strengths, challenges, interests, and passions in personalized ways.

Many learners are very comfortable in engaging with the world via personalised technology. It is rare to find learners who have the exact same instagram feed, youtube subscriptions or spotify playlists. Google Earth VR provides learners with a somewhat similar experience when exploring landscapes, cities, architecture, culture and other links to core curriculum features. When made available as a tool to be used on a daily basis, certain learners will gravitate towards using this tool to deliver deeper learning and others will see it as an opportunity to collaborate and assess content/concepts from different perspectives. Some students will engage with the necessary learning outcomes via other tools (textbooks, youtube, Google Maps...etc), the point being, that where Google Earth VR is available to learners - some will use the tool to extend their learning. The immersiveness of the experience adds to the toolkit available to learners to explore their interests, passions and strengths.

3. Access to learning is equitable and is grounded in the learning community’s core values, agreements and desired Impacts for learners.

The lowest scoring aspect of Google Earth VR as a learning tool under the PEW criteria is LW3 ⅓. This is evidenced by the difficulty of deploying the app equitably without the necessary competency of the teacher (selecting pedagogy to use the tool), capacity of the school (providing the space and infrastructure to make the tools work effectively) and conceptual understanding within learning communities regarding allowing learners the freedom to use room scale VR on a daily basis.

As the technology becomes more accessible and pedagogy surrounding using room scale VR becomes embedded within the professional development objectives set by both institutions and teachers, we will undoubtedly see the score for LW3 increase. As of writing in early 2020, the strengths of Google Earth VR as a ‘learning effective’ tool are apparent. To a lesser extent the tool certainly provides learning progressive outcomes also, but both areas are limited by the maximum carrying capacity determined by the limits of one headset and monitor.

As a school accreditation visitor for NEASC I have noticed some convergence of school’s mission statements and core values similar to the ones found at my own school “We inspire individuals to develop their intellect, creativity and character to become independent, adaptable, socially responsible and internationally minded citizens, by ensuring a dynamic, inquiry-driven education of the highest standard.” (, Jan 2020) There are some ingredients that Google Earth VR can add to this recipe, but for the moment these are relatively high cost and need an experienced, motivated and skilled teacher, with a high command of pedagogy to actually deliver on the initial investment.

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