Google Cardboard offers virtual trip for Lawrence students

Looking inside the 6-by-3 inch cardboard box, students could find themselves standing along the canals of Venice or looking up from the recesses of a cave.

Taken alone, the virtual reality headset Google Cardboard is simple, consisting of folded and slotted cardboard and two plastic lenses, but it’s the software it operates with that makes the approximately $15 device a segue to virtual reality.

The Lawrence school district recently purchased 20 Google Cardboards, which beginning this school year are available for teachers to check out for use in their classrooms, said Joe Smysor, the district’s technology integration specialist. Cardboard works in conjunction with a smartphone app to deliver a 3-D, 360-degree navigable image. Students can use apps with Cardboard to virtually visit museums, landmarks or cities around the world.

“It’s going to allow teachers to take their class on field trips where school buses couldn’t otherwise go,” Smysor said. “That could be back 100 years in the past, or underwater.”

The idea is that teachers can use Cardboard to go along with the curriculum in the classroom, said Jerri Kemble, assistant superintendent of educational programs and technology. It can give students a better sense of place for various subjects, such as geography, history, or language arts, Kemble said.

“If they are reading Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ they could go to Verona,” she said, adding that other examples could be students visiting different geological landforms, the national monuments in Washington, D.C., or historically significant locations such as Normandy beach.

There are also apps that allow users to create their own virtual tour by taking a series of photographs in order to build a 360-degree panorama. Kemble said such apps could allow students to correspond with international pen pals in a visual way, or coordinate with professionals to take tours of different workplaces.

“It gives a more detailed experience,” she said.

Cardboard was released earlier this year, and it assembles by folding and securing a smartphone into it, working with iOS phones, Android phones or other small devices like the iPod touch. Some of its apps, such as Google Expedition, are still being developed or are in piloting stages. Other companies are also developing education-focused apps to use with low-cost virtual reality headsets, Smysor said.

“We are right at the doorstep of virtual reality, and there are a lot of things we will be able to do the next couple years,” he said.