Strategy Share: Using 360-Degree Technology to Engage Student Explorers

The following post was written by 2017 Grosvenor Teacher Fellow Kim Young, a 9th-grade world history teacher, after her expedition to the Arctic. The Grosvenor Teacher Fellow Program is a professional development opportunity for pre-K–12 educators made possible by a partnership between Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic Education.

Kim Young sits in a kayak in the Arctic
Kim Young is a ninth-grade world history teacher at Weston High School in Weston, Massachusetts. Photo by Brynn Johnson

Variations of 360-degree and virtual reality experiences are becoming increasingly accessible as education technology. While 360-degree, virtual reality, and augmented reality are terms that can refer to different types of technology, a broad definition is video or photography viewed in an interactive, immersive, and/or movement-based way.  

Immersive technology speaks to how my ninth-graders experience the world. Students drive their own learning, curiosity, and exploration. I can hear students yell with excitement as they discover new things and make connections to what they already know. Those who have a hard time sitting still can use motion as an asset to their learning.The days when I use this technology in my classroom often make me feel the most successful as an educator.    

How to Use Immersive Technology to Drive Inquiry

While knowledge of, and access to, 360-degree content is expanding, development of best practices for use of this technology as a learning tool are continuing to emerge. Without incorporation within best classroom practices surrounding inquiry, 360-degree technology is ripe to be the next discarded toy, or worse, a distraction from learning.Here are three inquiry techniques (that you might already use!) that can be applied to 360-degree technology:

1. QFT (Question Formulation Technique): I used the 360-degree content I created on my Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship expedition as the hook to my students’ exploration of the Arctic. (More on how to create your own content below.)In groups of four, students explored 360-degree YouTube videos and Google Street View images at their own pace and interest. After this independent exploration, which piqued their curiosity, students worked together to generate questions using the Question Formulation Technique.  

Students use VR headsets to watch 360-degree videos
Students work in pairs to view a 360-degree video and record their partner’s observations. Photo by Kim Young

2. See, Think, Wonder: This visual thinking strategy from Project Zero transitions well into use with 360-degree technology. When using The New York Times’ VR exploration “Pilgrimage,” I put students in pairs, sharing one device and viewer. One student engages with the video (about 4.5 minutes long) and verbally explains what they are seeing. The other partner records these observations.

Students then switch roles, and on the second round, the viewer should only share new things they observe. Together, students use their combined observations (See) to draw conclusions (Think) and generate further questions (Wonder). I found using this thinking routine helped students focus their exploration and engage with the video in a more nuanced manner.

3. Student Detectives: When using Google Expeditions, I pose between three and five statements to students and ask them to gather evidence to support or refute the claims. As the expedition leader, you can control which 360-degree image students are viewing and use hotkeys to point them in a specific direction for closer observation.I recently used scenes from several tours of Italy to engage students in learning about the legacy of the Roman Empire. In seeing how Roman monuments exist within modern life, students gathered their own primary source observational evidence on the claims. While I controlled how much time students had to explore a scene, they had to explore within the scene on their own to find evidence for our class discussion.

Graphic created by Kim Young

How to Make Your Own Immersive Experience

You and your students can make your own 360-degree content, and it is easier than you think.

Anyone can stitch together 360-degree photos using the Google Street View app. My students do this when going out into the community to collect data for Geo-Inquiry projects.

If you are looking to go further, one major obstacle is acquiring the equipment—while prices are dropping, cameras cost between $150-$300. And unless you want really strange images of your thumb, you will also need a monopod ($15-$30).

Cameras are best used in teams of three-to-four students, so a class set of five cameras will have a high degree of impact. I recommend showing applicability and usability across multiple grade levels and schools when seeking financial support from funders, which could include local education enrichment foundations,, or National Geographic Education grants as part of a comprehensive project proposal. Reaching out to local and national technology companies for support is also worthwhile.  

Content creation specifics are camera-dependent but generally involve pairing with a phone. You can upload content to Google Street View (still images), Google Tour Creator (annotated still images), or YouTube (video). If you have a Mac, note that the Image Capture application maintains images’ 360-degree formatting upon import, while iPhoto does not.

Kim Young holds a 360-degree camera above her head while on expedition in the Arctic
Kim Young collects 360-degree content for her students. Photo by Brynn Johnson

Here are some tips to consider:

1. Image resolution is often lower than what you may want for classroom activities. Note that animals in the background or even medium-level details may not be viewable to students.

2. Think 360. This sounds obvious, but when I first started shooting my own photos I forgot about how important it is to choose a setting that has visual interest up, down, AND around. City squares, caves, inside domes, and stadiums are all good ideas.

3. Do not try to use equipment for the first time on a big trip or with your students. Practice around your own neighborhood first. Things happen quickly in the moment, and you don’t have time to fumble around with equipment.

4. Include yourself in the story! This was very uncomfortable for me at first as I am used to being the guide on the side and not the star of the show, but students want to see you in the middle of the action. I saw a significant change in student engagement with content I created when I intentionally included myself in the story. It can be fun to wear a colorful bandana or school logo, or make a funny face at the camera.

What has worked best with 360-degree technology in your own classroom? What successful content have you been able to create? What #epicfails can you share to help others avoid the same fate? Please share your experiences or questions in the comments section below.

Lindblad and NGS

The Strategy Share series features innovative teaching ideas developed by Grosvenor Teacher Fellows following their field-based experiences on voyages with Lindblad Expeditions.

2 thoughts on “Strategy Share: Using 360-Degree Technology to Engage Student Explorers

  1. Mary,
    First off, let me tell you how awesome this opportunity to utilize 360-degree media in the classroom is. As technology advances to higher levels of photos and videos, I have experienced some 360-degree media myself. I have not however considered using it in the classroom until after reading this post. I have thought about the possibility of integrating higher levels of tech into the classroom but have not explored the possibilities on a deeper level until now.
    Being in the world of science, there are many opportunities to incorporate new ways of engaging students in science to pique interest with the subject matter. I feel as though using some form of augmented reality could be a fantastic way of implementing a different form of tech in the science classroom. I can foresee classrooms becoming more and more technology focused with various forms of tech available to students. Even today’s youngsters rely heavily on technology, so where will they be in even a decade of technology advances? I think that using these forms of technology should be embraced for more diverse pedagogy in the future.
    Now even though my interest is clear in this matter, I do see some potentially problematic areas. First and foremost, finances of such implementation that was touched on briefly in this post. Yes the cameras are expensive, but what about the tech to use the VR media? The devices needed as well as the VR headsets are extremely expensive still. I still think using this method of tech in the classroom is several years out when prices finally begin to drop.
    Going forward I would love to implement at least one set of VR headset and 360-degree media in some form of piloting in my classroom. Just to test the waters before going all-out on this tech. Again, I really appreciate this post and showing a different variation of tech in the classroom and I feel as though other educators need to keep an open mind and see the benefits of using such tech with their students.

    1. Hi Brandon,
      I’ve found the costs of implementation to be varied – there are low cost and high cost options. On the low cost end – many 360 resources are available for free through YouTube and Google Poly. These can be viewed on laptops or smartphones. The resources are more immersive on the smartphone, but can still be used with just laptops. Using a viewer, even one students make themselves, steps things up in terms of engagement. I agree we are several years away from using the more immersive (and expensive) technology that includes sensors. We were fortunate to host the Intel Innovation Lab this year – I can’t wait to see what’s next in the field.

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