Google partnered with Labster to create a virtual reality biology lab, and Arizona State University will use it to offer the first online biology degree program.
Arizona State University will use Google's VR technology to offer the first completely online biology degree.
While many schools offer online courses and degrees, some fields have remained inaccessible because they require labs and hands-on training. Lab requirements force some students to commute and pay lab fees, Jennifer Holland, Program Manager for G Suite for Education and Daydream, said at I/O this week.
"This doesn't scale, but we know we have the technology to enable these experiences," she said.
To that end, Google partnered with Labster to create a virtual reality biology lab. Arizona State University will use it to offer the first online biology degree program.
The program consists of 30 labs simulating real outcomes and the equipment involved. Students move through the virtual space, conduct experiments, and see the outcomes. The included labs even transcend what is possible in the real world by including labs at the molecular level.
The virtual lab spaces are also always available, which can't be said of physical labs. "Students are able to have unlimited lab time, which many schools can't offer today" Holland pointed out.
Google announced the course alongside several other VR and AR improvements in education. In addition to its 800 virtual field trips in history, STEM, and art, Google is now bringing alternate reality—or AR—experiences to its Expeditions platform, including 100 AR objects when it launches at the end of the month.
With AR Expeditions, participants can interact with 3D objects as if they were physically in the space using Cardboard or Daydream viewers. The idea sprang from watching kids want to interact with what they saw on VR expeditions, Daydream and Education Product Manager Ben Schrom explained. Children exploring a VR coral reef wanted to interact with the sharks and coral, so "this is our answer for how you bring that shark into the classroom," joked Schrom.
AR objects can be freely placed in a space, or locked to QR code anchors printed on paper and placed in a shared space. The AR objects can be resized to be impressively huge or appropriately sized for the space students are using. Teachers can use a spotlight tool to highlight points of interest.
Google is also making it easier to create these virtual reality experiences with a new tool called TourCreator. Powered by Web XR, this web application lets users upload their own 360-degree content, or browse the reams of 360 views available from Google Street View, said Google's VR Product Manager Brit Mennuti.
TourCreator is available now, and will soon be updated to include voiceover narration and ambient music. Once complete, creators can publish their tours to Google's Poly platform, making them embeddable and shareable online. They can be viewed using a VR headset, or explored in two dimensions on a phone or web browser.
"We think this is the beginning of something big," said Holland. "What better way to use the power of VR."