Lessons Learned from Loving and Losing Google Expeditions

An image of a girl losing a red balloon to the wind.

As 2020 draws to an end, it is a time to reflect. Any reflection on this year has to include a sense of loss. Even those fortunate not directly affected by COVID have lost a sense of safety, connectivity, and routine.

In November, teachers lost two more things in 2020: Google Expeditions and Tour Creator as Google announced Expeditions would no longer work as of June 2021. I have long been a fan of Google Expeditions and its sister app Google Tour Creator.

Expeditions had a very brief run. Tour Creator’s was even shorter – just two-and-a-half years from launch to the November announcement. As with any app Google sunsets, if you ask a Googler, they always say the same thing: If usage is low, Google will discontinue it.

Before sharing some lessons learned, let me share my history with Expeditions. I was first exposed to Google Expeditions at ISTE in Philadelphia in 2015. I explored two or three scenes, one of which was an underwater scene that was especially impressive. Months later, I would have the privilege of leading Expeditions at the NCTIES conference.

In June 2016, I saw Expeditions again at the Google Innovator Academy in Boulder, CO. One of the facilitators mentioned that Expeditions worked on iPads as a window view into a scene. My school did not have an Expeditions kit but did have eight iPads in the Media Center. I returned to school in the fall and used the iPads to lead small groups of students on Expeditions.

Tom Mullaney using an iPad to lead four students on a Google Expedition.
The author leading students on a Google Expedition using iPads.

Later, I worked as an instructional coach at a high school in a different district. That high school had no iPads but did have an Expeditions kit. Investing in Expeditions kits demonstrated a desire to give students a new way to access content. I offered to set up the kit and lead the Expeditions for teachers’ classes. I was happy when teachers took me up on it even if it made me consider expensive travel plans.

I noticed there was a lot of work involved in leading Google Expeditions with the kit. Here is a quick rundown:

  • Wheel the kit to the classroom.
  • Unpack the kit.
  • Plug in the router.
  • Connect devices and the device leading the Expedition to the router.
  • Plug in devices into chargers and outlets. Devices cannot charge while they are in plastic goggles.
  • Place devices in goggles.
  • Connect each device to the Expedition.
  • Have two devices ready as a backup.
  • Lead the expeditions.
  • Charge devices during breaks.
  • When finished, unplug, power down, repack the kit and wheel it back to the Media Center.

As I typed that list, I realized why Expeditions did not have the usage Google wanted. That brings us to the first lesson:

Lesson 1: Sometimes it is better to make the most of what you have instead of buying more. Or iPads were better than Expeditions kits.

The iPads were easier than the kits. Teachers could use the school’s existing WiFi and connect an iPad to an Expedition while charging. Many students have familiarity with iPads. Students could join the Expedition with minimal instruction. As they used iPads to follow Expeditions, students were unaware that using the goggles is more immersive.

If Expeditions was sold as a nice way to teach with iPads, maybe it could have been more popular with teachers. Having used both iPads and the kits, I know the kits were too much work. I started to dread teachers taking me up on using the Expeditions kits. Especially if they taught first period which meant I would arrive well before the start of school to set up.

Google’s November announcement shared that VR Google Expeditions are moving to Google Arts and Culture. This leads to our next lesson:

Lesson 2: Content on the World Wide Web is more accessible for students.

When Expeditions arrive on the Arts and Culture website, anyone with an internet connection can access them. That’s it. No mobile device. No app. No teacher guide needed. That is a huge win. Hopefully, this will include the narrative text teachers used to lead Expeditions. That text was only accessible to students by listening to their teacher read it as they viewed a 360° scene. Hopefully, that text will be part of Expeditions in Arts and Culture. Speaking of teachers leading Expeditions…

Lesson 3: It is OK if teachers do not lead Google Expeditions.

Google Arts and Culture’s website and mobile apps (Android, Apple Store) will not have a feature where teachers can guide students. Nor do text documents, images, audio files, maps, videos, or anything else students consume as part of lessons. edpuzzle kind of does that for video but the point is that students can explore on their own or use teacher-made scaffolds as they would for other consumables. Expeditions will likely work best just like the app: teachers meeting with students in small groups to explore and converse about content. That will be possible in Google Arts and Culture. Hopefully, the narrative text will be viewable by all. Of course, teachers need to access Google Expeditions…

Lesson 4: Google Arts and Culture needs some organization.

Websites geared to teachers need to be well organized. For example, Google’s own Applied Digital Skills and CS First are very easy to navigate. Have a look at the Arts and Culture site. It needs an organizational revamp. Because Expeditions was an app, it did not have a web presence. Teachers had to install the app to search and find expeditions or do a Control F search on the Expeditions spreadsheet. Hopefully, teachers will go to Arts and Culture and find a very organized Expeditions experience with one click.

This may sound more optimistic than most takes about Expeditions moving to Google Arts and Culture, however…

Lesson 5: Losing Google Tour Creator stings.

Google Tour Creator is going away in June because Tour Creator tours live in Google Poly which is also shutting down. I used Tour Creator in some of my digital breakouts and loved what it could do. There are some alternatives but none let students and teachers create with Google Street View. Unlike Expeditions, Tour Creator will not live on and be accessible to more students.

As much as I enjoyed leading students on Expeditions, having them freely available on the web will be better for education. Tour Creator is a real loss though. Losing a free student creativity tool feels appropriate for 2020.

Rest in peace Expeditions and Tour Creator. Long live Expeditions and Tour Creator.

What do you think? How is losing Google Expeditions affecting you? Please comment below or tweet me, @TomEMullaney.

Does your school need remote professional development to keep teachers sharp during this era of virtual learning? Have a look at some of my offerings and connect with me on Twitter.

Photo by Karim MANJRA on Unsplash.

6 Comments

  1. I was one of those lucky folks who got to go through the list you created to get those darn headsets to work with Expeditions, as well as train teachers how to use them. I grew to DESPISE them for the reasons you mentioned. My favorite was when an update was thrown in the mix during the day and we had to touch every last one of the devices. The kids did enjoy the tours – at first – but they started to lose their novelty after a few rounds. The quality of the tours were widely mixed and the spreadsheet was a bit ridiculous for a Google product. I can’t say that I’m sad to see Expeditions go, but as an entry to basic VR/AR and some interesting points of interest, it served its purpose.

    Like

    1. The kids always enjoyed them but I didn’t notice that much more enjoyment using goggles vs. iPads. I still content Expedieditons is killer on iPads. I’m hoping that will be the case in the Arts and Culture version of it.

      Like

  2. Thanks for letting us know, great blog. I think my favorite part of expeditions was the augmented reality expeditions. I hope there will still be a way to access them.

    Like

  3. Hi Tom, I’m wondering if there have been any updates to this? I have a set of 30 in my STEM school and we use them all the time. I’m trying to think of a way to still use the tablet and Expedition devices next year. Any tips or ideas you have to share? Totally missed this announcement and we really love this resource! Thanks for any help or insights on some possible pivots.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s