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25 October 2016

"Virtual field trips" are taking kids to amazing places

Virtual field trips break new ground in immersive learning, writes Izwan Ismail 

 

The faces of the children lit up as volunteers from Give.my started to distribute the Google Cardboards and mobile phones. 

 

The children, ages 7 to 15, are mostly Rohingyas under the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) programme. They are placed at the Muslim Aid Malaysia Humanitarian Foundation in Pandan Indah to receive basic education. 

 

Most of them hardly get the opportunity to visit places such as KLCC or theme parks, to ride on a rollercoaster or go on a helicopter ride. 

 

But when they put on the Google Cardboard and insert the smartphone, with help from the volunteers, they break into smiles, excitement, and laughter.

 

CREATING OPPORTUNITIES 

According to Give.my project leader Momoko Sum, there are many underprivileged kids in Malaysia and they rarely get a chance to explore the world. With this project, they get to do that, virtually.

 

“Called Malaysian Virtual Field Trips, it enables kids to visit interesting places without ever leaving their village,” she says. 

 

Momoko says many teachers want to hold field trips, but this can be expensive and will not help the kids in the long run. “The idea is to use the affordable Google Cardboard and create 360-degree videos of nteresting places in Malaysia.” 

 

With funding from Webe, Give.my started the project in May this year, with five volunteers. “We started by looking at the places of interests that we want feature,” says Momoko Sum. 

 

THE PREPARATION 

The group took six weeks to prepare 10,360 VR videos. These include the Sarawak Cultural Village, Kinabalu National Park, Merdeka Parade, Air Asia, Sepang Gold Coast, KLCC, Penang and Pulau Ketam. 

 

Give.my also covered a variety of topics that will open the kids’ eyes to the many wonders of the country. 

 

To reach out to more people and to create awareness, the group will run 10 workshops for underprivileged children to experience and discover new things through the use of 360-degree videos, smartphones and Google Cardboard viewers. 

 

“We hope to make an impact on 200-400 kids and show them a future that they’ve never imagined for themselves,” she says. 

 

Give.my creates 360-degree videos based on Malaysia’s popular sights, professions, festivals and many other interests. Imagine watching pewter being crafted in Royal Selangor without having to visit the place. 

 

“It’s amazing what technology can teach these kids,” says Momoko. 

 

“At the same time, we have identified whom we can share the content with. 

 

“They are underprivileged children from orphanages, refugee camps and indigenous communities who often find themselves left behind in the education system.” 

 

Momoko says the Malaysian Virtual Field Trips project does not just cater to underprivileged kids, but also offers teachers the alternatives available for field trips, as well as teaching subjects.

 

“With virtual reality, we see a wonderful opportunity to help bridge this gap. The technology is maturing, becoming more affordable and accessible, and has tremendous potential for all sorts of applications and fields. From an educational point of view, virtual reality opens up a whole new way of learning and providing ‘field trips’ is just the start,” she says. 

 

REACTION 

So far, Give.my has conducted workshops at seven schools for underpriviledged children throughout the country. 

 

“The feedback was pretty amazing and the children totally enjoy it,” says Momoko. Students were also asked to do some exercises to test their knowledge on what they had seen throughout the virtual trips.

 

Meanwhile, the Foundation’s fundraising and marketing executive Muhammad Azlan says the initiative has managed to create new interest and excitement towards learning. 

 

“It gives new opportunity for the children to explore the world and they can learn a lot from this,” he says. 

 

HOW GOOGLE CARDBOARD WORKS? 

A GOOGLE Cardboard unit plus a compatible smartphone creates a virtual reality experience. The Cardboard uses the accelerometer sensors in the phone to understand where you’ve turned your head and adjusts your view in the viewer. Apps like VRSE (with virtual reality documentaries), Google Earth and Google Street View can all be used to put students nearly anywhere in the world.

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