Volume 11, 2019
Disruptive play or platform colonialism? The contradictory dynamics of Google expeditions and educational virtual reality
This paper provides an exploratory case study Google Expeditions (GE), a virtual reality (VR) toolkit designed for the classroom, and it’s roll-out in the UK through the “pioneer program”. Drawing from existing research on Google, platform studies, and interdisciplinary work on the digital landscape, this paper examines the conflicting tensions around the logic of Google for Education (GFE) and the tangled user experiences of GE within a higher education context. Findings are drawn from participant observation of a one day GE trial; participant observation of 396 people’s mostly first time experience with GE; a post-trial survey with those predominantly first-time users (N = 100); and participant observation of invite-only GFE events organized by Apps Events on GFE’s behalf. In addition to providing a detailed insight into the rollout of a rising educational Google product, findings suggest GE engages contradictory dynamics. On one hand, users experience exciting, disruptive play, and on the other, the pioneer program extends Google’s platform empire, colonizing educational space and those within it.