Before jumping into the review, here’s a brief introductory video from the Utopia 360° team.
The basic idea is that students can use their phone or tablet (with the free Space Exploration app installed) to scan the included cards and learn more about the content.
For the dinosaur and space bundles, students hold their device over a card, and are presented with information about that thing (e.g., the solar system, a velociraptor, etc.). Students can interact with the augmented reality model, by turning it and zooming in/out, as well as read information about whatever they’re looking at. Students can also take photos or videos of what they’re exploring, and in the case of the lunar rover, they can even drive it around the surface of the virtual moon.
The Animal Zoo bundle expands on this somewhat by also offering students instruction in the alphabet, and providing multilingual support. While I wasn’t able to review that specific bundle, the Space Exploration bundle did not include any similar instructional content. Instead, it more comes across as an augmented/virtual reality encyclopedia. In other words, it’s great for exploring content, but educationally, it doesn’t offer much beyond that.
The virtual reality side of the Space Exploration bundle is meant to allow students to explore the International Space Station and the the solar system. You can put on the included headset and take a trip through these different environments.
Unfortunately, during my own testing, as well as the testing of my colleagues and students, we were never able to get the display to function completely properly, even after adjusting the focal points on the headset multiple times.
I have used many other VR headsets successfully, and with the Utopia headset, we were never able to get the images to align precisely. It almost reminded me of those old Magic Eye images, where if you relaxed your eyes in just the right way, you would be able to see things as they were intended, but as soon as you looked somewhere else, or shifted your head, it was gone, and you were left with a slight headache. We tested with multiple devices on the headset, and always ran into this same issue.
In addition to exploring the International Space Station and the solar system, you can also use the headset to look at the included cards, but we encountered the same issues here as mentioned above.
In addition to the aforementioned issues, I was also unhappy to see that there is absolutely no NGSS standard-alignment or curricular support for these bundles. For a product that promotes itself as being part of a “STEM-based education series” - the actual classroom connections were completely absent. Aside from the alphabet instruction included in the zoo bundle, there is no curricular support, no discussion questions, no classroom guides, etc.
On the positive side, the price point of these bundles is fairly affordable, especially compared to other augmented/virtual reality classroom bundles. And the augmented reality component of the app worked incredibly well, and was certainly fun and engaging.
Overall, I see this being more useful as a fun toy to get students interested in space, or animals, or dinosaurs, and less beneficial as a classroom/educational resource.
It could be useful for students who are interested in learning more about these topics, but with the complete lack of curricular connections, support resources, NGSS-aligned materials, etc., it’s hard for me to recommend this as something that could be widely adopted in a classroom setting.
Additionally, the issues we ran into with the virtual reality means that even if these resources did exist, there would still be those difficulties to address. Plus, the included manual included information that was either incorrect or out of date related to the app, which was frustrating to see.
In short, the augmented reality side of this experience works well for exploring content, but outside of that, the Utopia 360° Space Exploration Bundle does not appear to currently be a beneficial classroom resource. If everything worked as expected, and the team had clearly placed an emphasis on developing something that was aligned with teacher and school needs, I think it could be valuable. But as it stands now, it only has potential for being beneficial at some point in the future.
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The opinions expressed in this review are my own.
I was not compensated for writing this review.
I recieved a Space Exploration bundle for the purposes of this review.