Last fall Google announced that Expeditions and Tour Creator would be shut down at the end of June, 2021. Last week they sent out reminders of those impending closures. If you’re looking for some alternatives to either tool, take a look at my list of alternatives.
Google Arts & Culture
The Google Arts & Culture app includes many of the experiences that are present in Google Expeditions. The one thing that you can’t do is guide students on tours. Google has introduced a new teacher center for Google Arts & Culture. In this video I provide an overview of how to use the Google Arts & Culture teacher center. The video includes directions for sharing specific portions of an Arts & Culture experience with your students.
Sites in VR
Sites in VR is a free app that features immersive imagery of notable landmarks around the world. The imagery can be viewed in VR headsets or without them. Unfortunately, there is not any audio accompanying the views in Sites in VR.
National Geographic’s YouTube channel has more than 50 videos that are designed to be watched in virtual reality. In fact, you can find lots of YouTube videos that are intended for viewing in VR by simply refining your search to 360 or 180 VR in YouTube’s search filters. See my screenshot below for more information about that.
City Walks is a neat website where you can go for a virtual walk in more than a dozen cities around the world. You can experience the cities with or without sound. You can go for virtual walks in the daytime or at night. At the start of each walk you’ll see some quick facts about the city that might help you understand a little more about what you’re seeing during the walk.
City Walks is essentially a really nice display of street-level YouTube videos with some additional menu options overlaid on them. That’s not meant as a knock on the site as it is a nice site. That does mean that there isn’t any interactivity built into virtual walks like you might experience in a virtual reality experience. The video sources for City Walks are clearly labeled in the lower-right corner of each screen.
Story Spheres is a tool that I include below in my list of alternatives to Tour Creator. In addition to using it to make your immersive VR stories, you can use it to browse a gallery of stories made by other Story Spheres users. Just click the explore tab on Story Spheres to start browsing through the stories. There is a search function on the gallery as well.
Alternatives to Google Tour Creator
Story Spheres is a neat tool for adding audio recordings to 360 imagery. Story Spheres lets you upload short audio recordings in which you describe to viewers what they’re seeing, the history of what they’re seeing, and the significance of what’s in the scene they’re seeing. It’s possible to upload multiple recordings. When you’re done you can share your Story Spheres story in a blog post, on social media, or any other place that you typically post a link.
Take a look at this Story Spheres story about Uluru to get a better sense of what can be done with Story Spheres. I wrote directions for how to use Story Spheres. You can read those directions here or watch my video about how to make a Story Spheres story.
CoSpaces is a platform that offers students the ability to create their own small virtual worlds. Unlike the other tools in this list, CoSpaces is an animated environment. I used CoSpaces last summer and early in the fall. It’s not a tool that students will use to create a VR experience in a day. Instead, students need to spend at least a few days using CoSpaces to really get the hang of building and animating their virtual worlds.
Google Street View App
The Google Street View app for Android and iOS offers more than just a way to view interesting places around the world. The free app includes a camera function that can be used to capture 360 photospheres. When you tap the camera icon in the app it will guide you through taking a series of pictures that will be automatically stitched together to form the photosphere. The completed photosphere can be shared with others in a variety of ways including direct sharing via SMS or email, posting on social media, or by contributing to the Google Maps community.
Cardboard Camera is a free Android app offered by Google. The app lets you take a 360 panoramic image that you can share to view in Google Cardboard viewer or similar VR headset. The app will capture any sounds including your voiceover present while capturing the image. Those who use Cardboard Camera on Android can save their VR images in Google Photos where they can be cropped and edited with basic image filters. Cardboard Camera for Android is available here. Here’s a video tutorial on how to use the Cardboard Camera app.
Unfortunately, Google hasn’t updated the app at all since 2018 so I’m not sure how much longer it will be a viable option for creating VR images.
If you’re interested in learning more about Google Earth and Google Maps, take a look at my self-paced Crash Course in Google Earth & Maps for Social Studies.