Sunday, April 24, 2011

Explore the world with 360 panoramas: Websites and Apps


  Have you ever wanted to take your students on a field trip to the Eiffel tower or the Great Wall of China? Wouldn't we all? Of course it isn't possible to see most places in the world first hand. We can always have them experience it through videos, books, photos or even on Google Earth.

      I think one of the best ways to explore the world today is through 360 degree photos. Students can navigate their way around as though they are actually standing at a particular location. To make it more real, teachers could always turn on the air conditioning and spray their students with water as they explore London. I am sure that kind of technology will be coming sooner than we think. 


     There are an increasing number of websites which provide 360 panorama photos of places around the world.  My favourites is which has a great collection. Be sure to check out their 80 Gigapixels London panorama . The detail is amazing. 

     Another great site is Google Maps. I am sure we have all heard about the controversy caused as Google drives its vans around the world capturing 360 degree photos (and private wireless data). Just drag the little yellow man to the location you want to explore, and in many cases you will see exactly what it is like to be standing at that location. Try finding your home on the map and you will be amazed if it has been mapped in 360 degree photos. 

     The World heritage Tour is aiming to create panorama photos of the world's heritage sites. This could prove to be a great resource for educators who are trying to find an authentic way to introduce their students to culture, history and geography. 


     In addition to these great Online resources, there are also some apps which allow you to capture and view the world around you in 360 panorama photos. I recently downloaded 360 Panorama  (available for $1.99 on the App Store) onto my son's Ipod Touch which is quite a good app for quickly capturing 360 degree photos. The app isn't perfect but it is very good considering how fast it works and that there is no need for the stitching of photos. You can upload the photos to their site using your Twitter account but sharing still isn't perfect. I would like it much more if it integrated more smoothly with social sites like Facebook. Currently, I post the link on Facebook which people can click to go to the website where the photo is stored. Here are a couple of photos I took using the App. The first is from a recent trip to Phuket and the second is from our condo. I think the quality is not bad considering they were taken with the Ipod Touch which has a lousy camera. It would likely work much better on the IPhone or Ipad. 


     Another popular app is Photosynth from Microsoft which is available for free on the App Store and which has more sharing options including the ability to share to Facebook and Windows Live. You can also add your photo to Bing Maps. I downloaded this app a few days ago and tested it inside the home. It was quite slow and not so great but I need to be fair and test it outside with more light. If I get some photos, I will add examples to the site. 


Finally, another great App which I tested recently is called Tour Wrist.  This is another free app available on the App Store which allows you to take virtual tours. My son loved the one of Alcatraz prison. As you walk around the room, you actually move around in the photo. He was walking around holding the phone and looking left and right so he could look into the cells. Quite an amazing app and even better that it is free. 


     These are just a few of the great examples of 360 panorama resources that are available. I think that these have great potential in the classroom. Our grade 4 students will be starting a unit on exploration in about a week and I plan to make use of the websites and apps to give them the opportunity to take virtual tours around the world. Of course nothing can compare to actually traveling to these places, but that just isn't possible.