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Technology in the Classroom: 12 Great Virtual Reality Apps

Jacqui Murray

The potential impact of Virtual Reality (VR) in the classroom can't be overstated. It has become the most exciting education device in a decade, enticing students to become engaged in pretty much any topic that includes a VR overlay. As a learning tool, it's affordable, inclusive, and worth the moderate learning curve required to get it up and running.

Let me step back a moment and explain what VR is. HowStuffWorks defines it this way: Using computer technology to create a simulated, three-dimensional world that a user can manipulate and explore while feeling as if he were in that world.

Marxent explains it simply as: The use of computer technology to create a simulated environment. Virtual Reality’s most immediately recognizable component is the head-mounted display (HMD).

If you want to unpack this revolutionary tool in your classroom, there are lots of online resources -- some free, some with a fee -- available to address a wide variety of education needs. Here are 12 of my favorites:

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900 VR Expeditions

If you use the Expeditions app (see below), here's a curated spreadsheet of 900 free expeditions available to you and your classes. It is crowd-sourced and sorted by tag, name, panorama title, location, brief description, and link, with a cell where teachers can note any additional required materials.

On a separate tab of the spreadsheet is a similar curated list of augmented reality expeditions, for those who have that technology available.

Class VR

Class VR is an affordable standalone Virtual Reality headset system complete with a unique student-friendly interface, comprehensive gesture controls, embedded educational resources, and simple-to-use teacher controls. It's appropriate for all age groups from preschool to high school and beyond. Use is simple: Teachers plan the VR lesson by searching over 500 resources by subject, topic, or keyword. Lessons are delivered via headset, including points of interest that dynamically attract student attention. Students move at their own pace, navigating the lesson with simple hand gestures.

CoSpaces Edu

Using the fee-based CoSpaces app, teachers create immersive, engaging VR (and AR) explorations of any content (using computer or tablet), which is then available to students. Simply drag-and-drop 360-degree images, sounds, objects, and characters onto the background. Animate with code (if you're a more advanced user) and then set students loose. Topics might include languages, literature, social science, STEM, coding, makerspaces, and arts. Teachers can easily manage classes online from their dashboard, creating and share assignments and observing student work.

Discovery VR

Created by Discovery Channel, the free Discovery VR offers unique around-the-world experiences that include following rhinos in the wild, traveling with the lion whisperer, seeing how ocean species are protected, and more. These can be experienced through the free app, viewed with Google Cardboard or a mobile headset like Daydream or Gear VR. They can also be viewed with a tethered headset.

Expeditions 

Google for Education's Expeditions is a free app that enables teachers and students to explore the world virtually via VR or AR. All you need (for VR) is the Expeditions app, a mobile device or Chrome OS, and a Cardboard or Daydream viewer. Teachers can use previously designed tours (like those available under 900 VR Expeditions above) or create their own in Tour Creator (see more on Tour Creator below). Google has partnered with leading museums, universities, laboratories, and publishers to develop more than 1000 VR (and AR) tours.

InMind VR

InMind 2 is a scientific VR Game that gamifies the exploration of thinking, molecules, chemistry, and human emotion. Game players must make choices as they play, and the progress of the story and the results will vary depending upon their decisions.

Mission V 

In Mission V, students use 3D modeling software to recreate virtual worlds that are aligned with STEM teaching in education ecosystems. In this game-based environment, students can use geometric building tools to collaboratively construct 3D models of real-world or fantasy structures (e.g. atoms, museums, or physics experiments) and program those objects to generate a fully interactive world.

NearPod VR

NearPod has become the go-to resource for teachers who look for customizable lesson plans. Now, using an app teachers and students are already familiar with, NearPod VR allows students to join virtual tours regardless of the device used in their schools -- iPads, Chromebooks, Mac, or PCs. VR headsets are not required but can make the experience more immersive. VR lessons can be selected by grade or topic, and include mindfulness and meditation, artistic expression, and a wide variety of college tours for high schoolers.

Tour Creator

The free Tour Creator makes it easy for teachers to create immersive VR tours in Google. You can start with a template or build the tour from scratch using provided backgrounds, 360-degree images, and ambient audio. Completed tours are shared with a link -- no extra app required and no downloads. They can also be embedded into a website, blog or social media.

Timelooper

Timelooper is the leader in recreating and delivering famous moments in history from around the world. They are offered in both VR and AR technologies using cutting-edge production technologies that enable the most immersive experience possible.

Titans of Space 

The Titans of Space app is a virtual tour of an authentic miniature Solar System with the option to go beyond. Students can stay at each location as long as they'd like -- there's lots to do at each, including up to 60 minutes of optional English voiceovers and subtitles, visuals, over 40 celestial bodies, and an engaging soundtrack. The app is delivered via Oculus Go, Rift, Vive, Monitor, Cardboard, and Samsung Gear VR (depending upon which version of the app you select). It is available in English, Simplified Chinese, Spanish, German, French, Portuguese, Russian, and Japanese.

The app is free to get started but includes in-app purchases to enrich the experience.

Trench Experience VR 

Through Trench Experience VR, students immersively experience an authentic trench from WWI in virtual reality. It is designed to be explored with Google Cardboard.

***

If you're teaching from textbooks and your students yawn too much (or don't study for tests), try VR. You both will love the immediate engagement and the passion for learning that comes hand-in-hand with virtual reality experiences.


Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-18 technology for 30 years. She is the editor/author of over 100 ed-tech resources, including a K-12 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in ed-tech, master teacher, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice reviewer, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on ed-tech topics, contributor to NEA Today and TeachHUB, and author of the tech thriller, Twenty-four Days. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.