Monday, December 3, 2018

Google Expeditions - Virtual College Tours

As a school counselor, my purpose is to connect with my students so I can connect them to their current and future education. So,each year, I coordinate our Reach Higher Week, where we focus on post-secondary opportunities for our students.
It's important that we use the week to expose our middle school students to post-secondary terminology and the variety of opportunities available after high school.  I always look for new ways to build on our Reach Higher Week and last school year, I began guiding students in virtual college tours. 

Our Local School Technology Coordinator and Technology Support Technician applied for and won a grant to get the class set of  30 Google Expeditions Virtual Reality Kit. Here'is a link to the  different kits: Google Expedition Kits at Best Buy Education.  

Google Expeditions, however, is an app you can download to a smart phone And it can be used with any VR headsets, such as Google Cardboard. The Google Expedition Kit that our school has includes the viewers/headsets for 30 as well as phones with the app to put into the viewers/headsets. The kit also includes a teacher device to guide the tour and wifi router that allows the students to find and follow the teacher guide for the tours. 

I love the idea of virtual reality and being able to access and experience moments, events, environments that you may not otherwise get to experience. I immediately wanted to figure out how I could enhance our school counseling program through the use of the VR kit. A simple online search about Google Expeditions and I was able to begin learning what Google Expeditions had to offer. 
Find more information about Google Expeditions here: Google Expeditions
And a list of available expeditions here: List of Available Expeditions

I very soon discovered that there were expeditions in a variety of careers as well as colleges. You can download the app on your own phone and play around in the expeditions yourself to get an idea of what they look like. 

I've never used anything like these VR kits before and it was very easy to learn. I chose which colleges we will tour and what scenes in the college the students view. Then on my guide device, I can read information about what the students are seeing and facts about the school, so I act as their tour guide through different scenes of the college.  There are scenes outside on the campus, inside classrooms, dining halls, dorm rooms, and more. 
I originally wanted to show my students schools in our state of Georgia but there are no Georgia colleges in google expeditions. However, I am able to show my students different types of colleges. That may be one of my favorite things about the virtual college tours. We can look at the larger 4-year universities, but we can also look at community colleges or schools like Berklee School of Music that specialize.  I love this because I get to help dispel negative myths about community colleges and technical schools. They can experience and see in their viewers the amazing facilities and hands-on labs that community colleges have available.  I can also relate some of the expeditions we go on to local schools to give them an idea of what post-secondary opportunities we have in Georgia that are similar. 

I simply send out an email to all of  the teachers at my school with a link to a Google Sheet to sign up during time slots that I have prepared. Last year, I had time slots of about 15 minutes and we only were able to tour one and half school or two schools very, very quickly. We toured Clemson University and Howard Community College.  This year, I created 30 minute time slots, which was perfect. We were able to  tour  three schools. We toured Berklee School of Music, North Carolina State University, and Rowan-Cabarrus Community College.  There are a variety of scenes in each college tour that allow you to add in your own information about  various degree levels, admissions processes, financial aid, etc. 

Not all of my teachers are available to sign up for virtual college tours, but those who are able to, their students get exposure to different types of post-secondary education that they may not otherwise be exposed too. I have general education teachers sign-up as well as connections teachers (my art teacher is sign up this year!) and special-education resource teachers sign-up. Some classes are small with 8 students, small classes are larger with 35 students (which means they have to do some sharing of VR headsets), but the virtual college tours work well with all the different types and sizes of classes. 
I'm excited to continue with virtual college tours each year as a unique way to expose our middle school students to what their future education can look like.