Hi! I'm Dave.

Back in 2019 I took a 360-degree camera and started filming hiking trails.

They quickly attracted millions of views online and other hikers asked me how they could do the same. So I showed them.

Then local community groups, larger commercial organisations and even some celebrities wanted to use the photos for their own environmental causes.

And so Trek View became a thing.

To date, Trek View has been focused on sustainable tourism, allowing people to explore destinations (e.g. hiking trails) to encourage them to visit in-person. Generally local tourism boards fund us to capture imagery and turn it into software (e.g. web / VR apps) that they use to support their marketing campaigns.

With well over a million images captured it has been clear for some time now that that they could be turned into “virtual adventures” allowing children to immerse themselves and explore the location whilst simultaneously learning about it.

As schools around the world are closing due to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, teachers are scrambling to find ways to continue their curriculum's remotely.

Parents are struggling to juggle childcare and work commitments.

Students are enjoying more time on Fortnite, but also missing vital parts of their education.

And so now is the perfect time for Treehouse to become a thing.

What it does

Treehouse uses our (Trek View's) existing 360-degree imagery of prominent geographical features (e.g. volcanos, coral reefs, rivers, mountains…) and turns it into virtual tours for students aged 7-11.

Trek View Mount Everest Expedition

Imagine being able to virtually climb Mount Everest whilst having the key features you’re seeing being explained interactively. Do you know what a “Wind Horse” is?

That’s Treehouse.

We (a team of 10 volunteers) have created a series of lesson plans around these educational virtual reality adventures, that allow any teacher to guide their class and help them learn through the immersive content.

Trek View Mount Everest Lesson Plan

Each lesson plan helps teacher’s guide students as they prepare for their adventure, guides them through points of interest during the tour, and gives them exercises for students to complete both during and after their expedition.

Our aim is to give students high quality and fun content that maps to their studies, but to also provide content that can be taught remotely to any student with a PC or mobile device.

To prove this concept, we’ve scheduled a series of free, live remote adventures (lessons) to cover the content we’ve created during the hackathon. You can enrol your child(ren) here.

How we built it

Our aim for the hackathon was to have a teachable product by the end of the weekend.

This involved getting teachers in a local school together to define key parts of the education curriculum for 7-11 year olds in the UK and defining the key concepts that need to be covered.

From there, we selected existing Trek View imagery that could be used to cover these requirements.

With the requirements defined and imagery mapped to them, we created lesson plans around the content. Lessons are divided into three parts (before, during, and after expedition) with learning objectives, vocabulary and extension ideas included that allow teachers to customise the lesson to suit the level of their class.

The lesson plans are also designed so that parents/carers homeschooling children can use the lesson plans to teach the content.

To get the expedition imagery online quickly and to make it interactive, we used an existing piece of software from Google, Tour Creator, as a quick technical solution.

Tour Creator was useful for our requirements because it requires minimum technical knowledge (great for teachers) and can be published quickly to be viewed on both PC and mobile devices (many classrooms rely on PCs).

Two other major advantages of using Tour Creator was the ability for each image to be annotated with points of interest (allowing for self paced study) and that it already had web and mobile apps students could use.

In line with our mission to keep everything open, we created this write up of how anyone can build their own tours using Tour Creator. Our hope is students, parents and teachers will be inspired to research different parts of our world and create their own tours.

Trek View Mount Everest Expedition

Finally, we virtually tested the lessons (over Zoom) with students and parents of a UK primary school to make final tweaks to the content and then freely published the lesson plans online.

Challenges we ran into

  • Teachers are stretched. It’s hard to introduce new content, simply because they are so busy. It became clear teachers would not have had as much time to work with us under normal schooling conditions.
  • School equipment can be very temperamental and very restricted (e.g. we had to wait 2 hours for the 1 IT person to unblock Zoom).
  • Managing a class of 9 year olds is not easy. Managing a virtual class of 9 year olds is even harder.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

  • 300 sign ups to join virtually guided live adventures (classes next week). Join us!
  • Everything we've built is open-source. 31 teachers (from 12 countries) have already volunteered to help develop enhanced / translated / new content. Steal our content here!
  • But most importantly we are inspiring students to protect the environment. One student wrote to us asking “how can I become a marine biologist?”.

What we learned

  • Students and teachers love interactive content
  • ...but school hardware / networks can be temperamental.
  • School budgets vary wildly. I heard a story from teachers who talked of previous schools they worked at providing iPads to every student. In the school they were currently at, many students had to share PC’s during lessons.
  • Teachers are sympathetic to new content, but due to time pressures are only really interested in adopting new teaching methods that cover curriculum content. Anything in addition to this will be quickly overlooked.
  • To get a solution like this widely adopted, we need to work with people at government level to get software and tools built into the curriculum.

What's next for Treehouse

  • To make this last as an educational tool, it is essential that the content matches curriculums. For example, our "Exploring the River Thames and Amazon river" lesson is part of the 7-11 curriculum in the UK, so would fit easily in existing UK lesson plans.
  • Develop new tours and lesson plans for additional topics, regions and age groups (and improve existing content).
  • Translate existing content into additional languages, and run more virtual live lessons for different timezones.
  • Extend the concept beyond children. It became clear during the Hackathon from parents and teachers who provided feedback, "it would be cool to have a someone guide me on a virtual tour of INSERT AMAZING PLACE HERE".
  • Google Tour Creator was great for speed, but lacks some key features for remote guiding. With more time we will build our own open-source software to requirements (or bake it into our existing open-source software, like Explorer)
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