Google’s New Pocket Galleries Can Easily Support Field Trips

VR galleries can’t replace field trips, but can enhance them

Key Takeaways

  • Virtual museum and gallery visits carry benefits like zero travel time and no upfront cost, but can’t completely replace viewing these works in person.
  • They can be a decent substitute if an in-person field trip isn’t possible, however.
  • Ultimately, virtual gallery visits are best used as a way to enhance and build upon in-person experiences.
Teacher and two students looking at a museum display

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Now that Google’s Pocket Galleries are open to a much larger audience, they’ll make great interactive supplemental material for art and history education.

What used to be limited to smartphones is now open to everyone with access to the internet, which means more possibilities for educators. Teachers can take entire classes on a virtual tour without having to physically bring everyone to a museum or gallery space. This almost sounds like an alternative to field trips, but it’s not really a substitute for a proper field trip. It’s more of a way to enhance the experience rather than replace it entirely.

“Pocket Gallery is immensely helpful with filling in specific gaps in children's (and adults', as well) experiences and learning,” said Dr. William Russell, student recovery and retention specialist, in an email to Lifewire, “This year’s second grade students have never had a normal, uninterrupted school year. Schools face the need to increase student experience and exposure to cultural phenomena without losing time or misallocating budgeted resources.”

What It Can Do

Google’s Pocket Galleries can act as an adequate alternative to a real field trip, especially if taking a trip to a museum isn’t possible. They also can become a field trip supplement. It’s true that seeing a digital image is no substitute for seeing something in person, but a digital image in a virtual space is better than nothing, or even possibly better than a flat slideshow.

Students using tablet computers in a classroom


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The past two years have made in-person learning (whether in a classroom or in a museum) a larger challenge than before. Building capacities have been reduced, and some students (or classrooms) are limited to remote gatherings. In some cases, a virtual field trip might be the only viable option.

But it’s not just the potential for a captive audience that makes Pocket Galleries worth exploring. For example, while an in-person visit offers their own unique experience, a virtual visit can provide more extensive information on a given subject. “I use Google Pocket Galleries with my Title I school,” Russell points out. He said the advantages include “...the depth and breadth of information students can experience, and the motivational aspects, such as the games with points.”

What It Can’t Do

There are some obvious benefits to using Pocket Galleries in lieu of a field trip (far less cost, no need for chaperones, no lengthy travel times, etc.). However, while it does make “visiting” significant works of art and pieces of history easier and more broadly accessible, it just isn’t the same. Not just because physically being in a space with these objects is a very different experience from seeing pictures of them, either. The actual act of learning is different on a field trip.

Student looking at a taxidermy bear in a library or museum

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Taking a class to a physical space in order to explore and learn can make it easier to understand how it all fits together. “Field Trips allow kids to direct their own learning in a space where they might notice something completely different from the other students,” said Jacob Smith, writer for Neverending Field Trip, in an email. “What they’re great at is putting learning in context and giving a more comprehensive understanding of the big picture.” Another benefit Smith points out is that kids who learn about a particular subject while on a field trip have a greater tendency to remember that information for longer.

That’s not to say Pocket Galleries have no educational value, of course. “It's a great step forward in making art accessible to those who can't see it in person and would make a wonderful addition to classroom time as an engaging way to explore art with the class," said Smith.

It's possible to pair a Pocket Gallery session with an actual field trip. Taking a virtual tour beforehand might increase interest in the events to come. Alternatively, taking a look at virtual representations of works the class would have just seen could help retain information and provide further details.

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