Have you ever given your students some free time to explore Google Maps? What do they do? In my experience, with the power to view the entire world, walk the gilded halls of the Palace of Versaille, jump to Everest Base Camp, dive into the Great Barrier Reef, or teleport to the International Space Station, the invariably go and try and find their own house. Their own neighbourhoods are more interesting to them than the rest of the glorious Earth. How can we blame them? As educators we should endeavour to make their education relevant to their lives. And so that powerful tool is used to race up and down the streets they walk everyday. But we can harness this enthusiasm with a little help from our friendly neighbourhood internet.
I have written about some virtual tours in earlier posts (here, here, and here) but the technology and the possibilities keep evolving. I was leafing through a book of Wonders of the World and took to Google to get a better look at them. This brought me to some more wonderful virtual tours. I marveled at the medieval ingenuity that built Westminster Abbey, the gothic phantasmagoria of the Sagrada Familia, and the exhaustive compositions of the Hermitage and the Smithsonian. Any of the preceding links could be used in class for a variety of outcomes. But the one that occured to me was introducing students to the idea of creating their own virtual tours. It’s not as hard as it sounds.
There are many programs and apps out there that can help you make these tours, but I like using the Google Tour Creator because it is free, it uses Google Maps and Street View, which many students are already familiar with, and it can be integrated seamlessly with Google Classroom. Basically, students add street views to a presentation the way you might add pictures to a slide. The difference is depth. Students can add points of interest and narrate each scene. Once published, others can watch the tour in order, listening to the intended narration, or drag the map in any direction they choose. Ambient music and descriptions round out the experiential and educational product.
There are plenty of great tutorials out there but I found the best introduction was just fooling around and trying to create my own. For some extra credit, publish to Google Expeditions and explore with Google Cardboard. In addition to giving you the ability to create great tours, the Google Tour Creator is a wealth of premade tours that will be of endless interest to you as a teacher, a student, and as a citizen of this grand and curious rock we live upon. Add some AV elements to your unit on Homer with some modern pics of Odysseus’ Journey. Take a break from Bio with a quick tour of the San Diego Zoo. Or check out the beautiful island where I was born. And please let me know if you create or find any other useful tours.