Advantages of Google Cardboard for Online Courses

August 25, 2017 - Dom Barnard

There has been lots of talk about Google Cardboard and its potential to transform how we learn. However, most people still aren’t using virtual reality (VR) headsets, often citing expense and usability as issues.

We’ll explore why Google Cardboard is a great addition to traditional learning and how VirtualSpeech are integrating it into their online courses.

What is the Google Cardboard?

Google Cardboard is a VR headset which is used to view different virtual experiences on your mobile. When you insert your mobile into the headset and put it on, you’ll be able to look around as if you were actually in the virtual world.

The VR experience and the virtual world is powered by your mobile phone, with the Google Cardboard holding it in the correct position. In this way, Google Cardboard is purely a viewing tool.

Google provide the software (Google VR SDK) which developers use to build apps for Google Cardboard, hence the Google in its name.

Google Cardboard with push trigger

The Google Cardboard, most come with a headstrap so you don't need to hold it in position.

Advantages of Google Cardboard

There’s no shortage of VR headsets available in the marketplace. However, in comparison to the top of the market VR headsets, like Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR, Google Cardboard offers major advantages for online courses:

  • Low Cost - The low cost of Google Cardboard is one of the main reasons it’s such a great option for online courses. You can buy it as part of the course or even get given one by the course provider.
  • Accessibility - Google Cardboard was one of the first mass produced VR headsets, meaning that you can buy it from thousands of e-commerce sites all over the world. The early versions required a small amount of assembly, however the modern Cardboard versions (Cardboard v2 and above) arrive pre-built.
  • User-friendly - The cardboard build allows you to fix them easily with common items found around the house.

Disadvantages of Google Cardboard

Due to the materials chosen for design and assembly, there are also some downsides to using a Google Cardboard to power your VR experiences:

  • Comfort - As these headsets are typically built with cardboard, they can be uncomfortable for long viewing sessions. VR experiences designed for the Cardboard should be a maximum of 15 minutes long.
  • Lens Focus - The headset is a fixed build, meaning that the distance of the lenses from your eyes and the mobile screen cannot be adjusted. This can cause the experience to look blurry. A way to get around this is to use the official Google Cardboard app to scan the barcode on the Google Cardboard (described below) - this calibrates the focus in the software and adjusts the focal point for that headset design.

Popular Cardboard designs

Anybody can download the designs from Google's website and build their own Google Cardboard. Many people have used these designs as the basis for their headset, while changing small parts of it.

Google cardboard comparison or magnet trigger and push trigger

The Google Cardboard on the left shows the more modern push trigger, while the older magnet trigger is shown on the right.

The main difference in design is the trigger used to activate things in the virtual world:

  • Magnet trigger - this was used in the early versions of Cardboard. The magnet trigger would act as a ‘mouse click’ in the virtual world, allowing you to interact with objects and buttons. However, do to the huge variation in mobile design, the magnet trigger did not always work. Be aware that modern VR apps may not work with this trigger as they have been designed only for the ‘Push trigger’.
  • Push trigger - this is being used on modern Google Cardboard designs. The user presses their finger down on the trigger, which allows them to interact with the virtual world. This simple trigger moves a lever which touches the screen, just like a regular finger tap. This means it works on all mobile devices and is therefore the preferred design method these days.

When selecting a headset for online courses, you’ll want to buy one with a push trigger as not all apps now work with the magnet trigger.

How to set it up

Setup taken from the official Google Cardboard page:

  1. (Optional) Download the Google Cardboard app and scan the QR code on the viewer using your phone’s camera.
  2. Open the top flap of the viewer and take out the side flaps. Pull the flaps up and press against the fasteners on the sides.
  3. Put your phone inside the Cardboard viewer and look through the lenses to enter the world of VR.
Google Cardboard icon

The Google Cardboard icon, used to indicate that an app is compatible with a VR headset.

Android vs. iPhone

Google cardboard apps can run on both iPhones and Android mobiles. However, from my experience as a developer, it’s much easier to build apps for Android devices. This is probably why there are many more VR apps on the Google Play Store compared to the Apple App Store.

Where you can buy a Google Cardboard

Here are some of the popular headsets and links of where you can buy them:

Google Cardboard variations

There are lots of Google Cardboard variations available to buy, with prices ranging from $5-$40. Some have moved away from the usual cardboard material to more robust materials.

Case Study - Public Speaking Online Course with VR

VirtualSpeech have created a course which combines traditional online video tutorials with VR experiences for the Google Cardboard. There are four different VR experiences, each linking with relevant sections in the video tutorials.

For example, you’ll learn about how to give eye contact to different sized audiences with the video tutorials, then practice these techniques in virtual reality with realistic audiences and environments.

Practice eye contact with the VirtualSpeech app

Use the course heatmap to check where you spent your eye contact distribution.

You’ll also get sent a Google Cardboard when you sign up for the course if you need one. All you need to do then is download the VirtualSpeech app onto your mobile and you can then learn experientially from the safety of your own home.