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Media Making: Stereoscopes with Google Cardboard

I recently tagged along on a field trip with local students to the Buffalo Niagara Heritage Village in Amherst, NY. The students were learning about New York State History, specifically the area around Western New York. This regional history gem is a sprawling campus that includes both indoor and outdoor exhibits, including real churches, schools, and homes where students and museum visitors can step back in time and see what life was like in the 1800s.
During the tour of one of the houses, the docent shared a device called a stereoscope.
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The students were very excited by this device, which was once one of America’s most popular forms of entertainment. Invented by Charles Wheatstone in 1832, with a patent in 1838, then upgraded in later years by Oliver Wendell Holmes, a stereoscope is basically a pair of glasses with uniques lenses and a platform for holding a special picture that takes advantage of human binocular vision so that two images side by side merge to form a single three dimensional image.

 

The docent let each student (and the adults who tagged along!) look through the stereoscope which depicted images of life in the 1800s. The kids were amazed, as was I, at the 3-D images we saw. It reminded of the ViewMasters we used to have when I was a kid. And then it reminded me of something even more modern: Virtual Reality.

 

When the students were done, I took pictures of the stereoscopic images with my phone. I wanted to see if they would work in Google Cardboard headset. I cropped the images to the edges of the stereoscopic picture, enlarged the picture to fit my phone’s screen, and horizontally placed it into the Google Cardboard headset. And what do you know, it totally worked!

 

I made a short movie that shows the stereoscopic images I photographed at the Buffalo Niagara Heritage Village (used with permission) which you can access here:

Note: This is a stereoscopic movie, so plop it right into your own headset to view in 3-D!

So, cool as it is to be able to view stereoscopic images in Google Cardboard, it’s also cool that it opens up some cans of worms of what this discovery means in terms of learning and engagement.

  1. Students could search Google and/or Youtube for stereoscopic images and movies, particularly of historical importance that they can now use as a more dynamic image to analyze for details and draw conclusions from. This level of critical analysis likely already lives in the curriculum, but using the stereoscopic images may provide a new level of engagement that would cement the learning in a student’s brain!
  2. Students could create their own Stereoscopic images as a piece of media that can be viewed in Google Cardboard, or be part of a larger presentation like a movie, that shows not only the stereoscopic images they created, and also what they learned about the content related to the images they constructed. I created the stereoscopic image below using Google’s Picasa tool. I imported the picture of the inside of the one room school house from the Buffalo Niagara Heritage Village tour. I cropped it to a square shape, lightened it up a bit, and changed the color to sepia tone. I saved the picture, then saved a copy. I selected both pictures and clicked the “Create” option in the file menu up top. I chose “Picture Collage” with the two pictures. Picasa loaded the two pictures, and I chose options for a Grid Setup, with No Spacing, and a formatted Aspect Ratio of 16:9 (HDTV). Then clicked on “Create Collage” and noted that the now Stereoscopic image lived in the Picasa Folder in My Pictures. I exported the image, via Dropbox, back to my phone and opened it to view in Google Cardboard. Totally worked. You can save the following image to your phone and try it out:

 

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The caveat was a slightly grainy image, but that added to the historical look of it.

 

  1. This is a new opportunity for media-making with both images and movies, or as part of a larger presentation that includes voice-overs, live speaking, or virtual field trips. While the idea for this was spawned by my visit to the Buffalo Niagara Heritage Village, this could really be done with any content, any place, in multiple ways. This is an invitation to something new to think about and hopefully spark some creative ideas by you or your students.
I’d like to thank the people at the Buffalo Niagara Heritage Village for permission to use the Stereoscopic Images in their collection as well as their commitment to preserving local history in such an interesting way. If you ever find yourself in Western New York, the Heritage Village is a definite must-see! Perhaps you should bring your own Virtual Reality headsets–there might an opportunity to use them!

 

Mike Fisher
Ditch The Daily Lesson Plan, available now from ASCD
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Digital Learning Strategies, available now from ASCD