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Google opens up its Virtual Reality field trips for all, debuts new apps and services for teachers

TechCrunch TechCrunch 27/06/2016 Sarah Perez

On the heels of Amazon’s entry into the learning materials market, Google this morning also unveiled a series of product announcements aimed at expanding use of Google products and technologies in the classroom setting. At the ISTE conference today, the company introduced a number of new tools for educators, ranging from a research project that helps teaches kids to code called Project Bloks to an expansion of its Google Cardboard-assisted “Expeditions” program, plus several new tools and services for the classroom involving Google Docs, Chromebooks and Google Cast.


The Expeditions program launched in September of last year as way to take students on “virtual reality field trips.” That is, using a Google Cardboard viewer,  and an accompanying Expeditions app, students can be transported to far-away locales, whether that’s exploring the ancient ruins at Machu Picchu, natural wonders like the rainforest, or places you would likely never otherwise be able to visit, like Antarctica.

Since its launch, over a million students in 11 countries have gone on these virtual trips, Google now says. And its collections of destinations has grown to over 200, including also those made by established educational providers, like Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and soon, Pearson.

Today, Google says that its making the Expeditions program available to everyone – all they’ll need are Google Cardboard devices and smartphones, or tablets in 2D full-screen mode.

The Expeditions app, which works on Android today, will have an iOS counterpart in the near future, too, notes Google. In addition, Best Buy Education will also now be making Expeditions kits available for schools to purchase which include a tablet, the virtual reality viewers, and a router. These can be pre-ordered for the upcoming school year.

New Apps: “Google Cast for Education” plus “Explain Everything,” “Soundtrap” and “WeVideo for Chromebooks”

The company additionally announced a free Chrome app called Google Cast for Education, which works with the Google Classroom service in order to move audio and video across school networks, while also offering built-in controls for teachers. The app runs on the teacher’s computer, so there’s no additional hardware needs as with the Chromecast devices. Teachers run the Cast for Education app, and students can also share their screens using the existing “Cast” feature in the Chrome browser.

In classrooms where Chromebooks are used, there’s a trio of new apps making their debut. Interactive whiteboard Explain Everything, music and podcast maker Soundtrap, and video project tool WeVideo are creative apps built by partners that are now offered at a discounted rate to schools when purchased together – whether that’s alongside Chromebooks or as standalone subscriptions. Google says it collaborated with EdTechTeacher on this collection of apps.

Google Docs gets Quizzes that grade themselves

Finally, the company announced a new feature in Quizzes in Google Forms which lets teachers automatically grade multiple choice tests and checkbox questions. Teachers can also add review materials like explanations, supplemental websites or review videos, instead of just marking answers as wrong. Teachers can also now disable a setting that lets students send themselves a copy of their responses which was highly requested. (Google Classroom offers something similar to the quiz tool, but this is more of a standalone offering.)

Google is demoing the new tools at the ISTE event in Denver, and will also publish more details on its Google for Education blog this week.

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