Penn Manor students use new technology to create virtual tour of Lancaster farming

Penn Manor High School students have created a virtual reality tour using technology that will allow people from across the globe to learn about farming in Lancaster County.

Penn Manor was chosen to participate in a beta project for Google Tour Creator, a new software program that enables schools and other institutions to create virtual tours of their programs, communities and businesses.

Penn Manor agricultural education students worked with their peers in American literature and commercial art classes to create “Farming for the Future in Lancaster,” a 360-degree tour of local farming practices and businesses viewable through VR goggles and using Google’s new Poly web interface.

The tour covers such topics as dairy farming, landscaping, erosion control, greenhouses and family farming traditions, providing panoramic images that include pop-up explanations.

Google for Education representatives were so impressed with the farming tour they sent a film crew from New York to Penn Manor High School last month to create a video about the Lancaster project. The film was aired May 9, to coincide with the worldwide release of Tour Creator.

The Lancaster farming tour is now available for viewing by anyone across the globe.

“It was an incredible experience being able to connect with and help the global community,” said Joel Brubaker, a Penn Manor junior who helped create and edit the written explanations that are part of the tour.

The project came about when Penn Manor technology training specialist Shelby Foster and Diane Glock-Cornman, a PM agricultural education teacher, were talking about ways to integrate more technology into the classroom.

Glock-Cornman was familiar with Google Expeditions – the VR tours the company made available to schools – but was dismayed to find so few on agriculture. She decided to challenge students to create their own using 360-degree cameras purchased by the school.

When Google announced the beta Tours program, Penn Manor submitted an application to create the farm tour and was admitted to the program. Google provided access to proprietary software and expertise, but the students basically created the tour on their own.

“The kids loved the experience,” Glock-Cornman said. “Our agriculture students are always up for a challenge, but with this, they really owned it and ran with it – covering all facets of ag production. It also was a way for students to see how they could use a new tool to communicate.”

The ability to share the story of their way of life in such detail inspired them, she said, helping dispel the “cows, sows and plows” stereotype of “ag kids.”

“Many times our agriculture students get pigeonholed into a specific stereotype, and it was so encouraging to see them working with other classes and getting the opportunity to lead a project within the school,” she said. “Plus, I think they made some new friends along the way, too.”

The collaborative nature of the project got Google’s attention, and company decided to feature Penn Manor in its release of Tour Creator. A film crew was on campus for three days in late April to shoot the video.

“After all the work was done, to experience the film crew and visit from Google was beyond anything we expected,” said Lisa Mayo, a Penn Manor English teacher who participated in the tour project with her students. “It’s weeks later, and students are still talking about it.”

Kyle Bushong, an agriculture student from a farming family, said the virtual tour “is a great way to show others about where we live.”

“We have the perfect soil here, and I feel this land is highly valued by the many generations that have lived here before me,” he said. “This is a great way to get the facts out there about what we do.”

Kudos to our students and staff for embracing this new technology in such an impactful way!

Click here to see the film about the Penn Manor Tour Creator project.

Click here for the farming VR tour.