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New version of Google Earth allows virtual field trips

New version of Google Earth allows virtual field trips

Do you remember sitting in history class? Or should I say, sleeping in history class? Maybe the teacher spoke in a monotone voice. Maybe he or she was way more interested in dates and maps than you were. Maybe they never quite got around to explaining the most important piece of the puzzle: why you should care.

The same thing could be said of travel. Most people would love to travel and see other parts of the world. But the same factor applies: I need to know what I’m looking at, what its significance is, and where it fits into my knowledge about the world, past and present, or I’m not going to care.

The future of learning and travel just got a whole lot brighter, because Google has figured out how to harness the power of their vast catalogue of educational materials and their Google Earth images to put together all the pieces for students to not only be able to see places and people (in the present and in a historical context), but to understand what the significance is, where this is taking place, and how it fits into their knowledge about the world. With all of that at your fingertips, how could you not care?

Google announced on their blog new features and resources geared toward helping educators and students. While some of these new features require a special Google for Education account, many can be accessed from home, putting better education within reach for anyone with an internet connection.

What kind of educational tools are we talking about?

Google Earth is in 3d, and has knowledge cards attached to major landmarks that explain cultural or historical significance: “condensed factual information that is frequently sought by a user in association with a given query.” But the real educational magic is in Google Earth Voyager.

Google Earth Voyager contains curated stories that provide guidance by pulling together geographic location and historical and cultural facts to foster geospatial learning. Google’s partnership with National Geographic, HHMI Biointeractive, PBS, Mission Blue, NASA, and BBC Earth gives students access to the best resources to explore the world, including videos, lessons, and interactive tools.

You can follow the trail of Lewis and Clark, the Vikings, or explorers along the Silk Road. You can see what scientists are up to while investigating climate change, the Ebola outbreak, or the coral reefs. See some of the most beautiful landscapes from BBC’s Planet Earth II. Explore World UNESCO sites. See the ruins of ancient civilizations, or explore modern ones by taking a grand tour of Italy. Follow the haunts of such authors as Charles Dickens and Hemingway.

And keep in mind that every step of the way, context is provided so that you know what you’re looking at and what is interesting or significant about it.

Age of the interactive classroom

All of these new features are just a small piece of what Google is making available to schools who purchase their Chromebooks, suite of educational programs, and resources for educators. Profiles of schools who have been using Chromebooks and the interactive tools provided by Google do report better engagement with some promising improvements in test scores and graduation rates to back up that claim.

Would I like to be a kid in school again? No. Am I a little bit bitter about all the new ways for children to learn what I had to struggle to memorize from a textbook? Maybe. But I’m willing to let it slide because there is nothing with the power to improve lives like education. And I’m no history, nature, or geography buff, but I don’t plan to let school-age children have all the fun.