The Google Expeditions initiative allows pupils to ‘immerse’ themselves in three-dimensional worlds from their desks using low-cost ‘educational’ view-finder masks (pictured)
Experts have condemned plans to allow Google to flood British classrooms with virtual-reality devices branded ‘educational cocaine’.
The internet firm is providing demonstrations of its technology – which allows pupils to ‘immerse’ themselves in three-dimensional worlds from their desks – to a million youngsters.
The Google Expeditions initiative aims to show children how to use low-cost ‘educational’ view-finder masks – just as much more expensive virtual-reality headsets become the latest craze in the run-up to Christmas.
The tech giant is visiting schools in London, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Belfast, Newcastle and Inverness in the next two months to promote the masks.
But educational experts fear the devices take pupils further away from traditional classroom teaching and distract from the ‘hard graft’ of actual learning. However, Google insists its only motivation is to complement pupils’ learning.
Critics warned last night that such ‘gimmicks’ were dangerous and children would later pester their parents to buy the more expensive leisure version.
These include Google’s new Daydream View headset, which is selling for £69, and which requires a ‘Daydream View-ready’ smartphone, which could include Google’s Pixel device costing an extra £599.
Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said: ‘Schools should be careful not to be trapped in a marketing ploy. The interest of the children will obviously be piqued when they try these out at school.
‘The danger is that they will bully their parents into buying more expensive versions for Christmas. Although superficially attractive as a teaching device, they cannot replace the hard graft of actually getting the children to learn subjects.’
Experts fear the devices take pupils further away from traditional classroom teaching. Pictured is an underwater scene seen through a Google mask
Chris McGovern, of the Campaign for Real Education, said: ‘This is educational cocaine. These things are gimmicks and more about entertainment than education.’
Last week The Mail on Sunday revealed that a new version of the hugely popular video game Minecraft has been developed for schools. Experts also dismissed that as an ineffective ‘gimmick’.
At Google’s school demonstrations, pupils don £15 cardboard masks into which a smartphone is slotted. The mask then displays pictures relayed from a special app on the smartphone, which gives the children the impression of being in exotic environments such as space or underwater. To reinforce the experience, they turn their heads or look up and down for a panoramic view.
Google says the system will stimulate the imaginations of computer-obsessed youngsters by introducing them to realistic experiences they perhaps would never otherwise have – from ‘visiting’ Verona, the setting of Shakespeare’s Romeo And Juliet, to seeing inside an operating theatre.
The teacher can control what the children see by entering commands, and can even create pointers in their field of vision to illustrate an item of interest.
Numerous experiences can be downloaded, from ‘scary’ films featuring spiders and sharks, to views of the Great Wall of China. Some are even hosted by celebrities such as Michelle Obama.
Critics fear, however, that the new initiative will only intensify competition between Google, Microsoft and Apple to get their products into classrooms, influencing children to use one system rather than another or win lucrative, taxpayer-funded school contracts.
If schools want to use Google’s virtual-reality kits after the free demonstrations have finished, they have to buy the cardboard masks and supply the iPhones and tablets themselves.
Google denied its programme was linked to marketing, saying: ‘For us the important thing is that we have seen the value this has in bringing subjects to life. Teachers have found it an infinitely useful resource.’