Brian Lyra and Elizabeth Benoit, the co-founders of HistoryView.org, came up with the idea when Lyra was a real estate photographer after he created a virtual tour of a historic home he was selling. Benoit, a teacher, recognized the educational potential for virtual tours.
“I showed her the virtual tour and she looked at me and said ‘you know, we should make field trips out of this’,” Lyra said. “The next day, we formed a Delaware corporation.”
HistoryView.org has already partnered with 360° photographers around Texas to create virtual tours of the NASA Shuttle Fuselage Trainer in Houston, the 12th Armored Division World War II Museum in Abilene and the Museum for East Texas Culture in Palestine.
Metroplex360 is gearing up their photographers to capture even more. Chris Hickman, the founder of Metroplex360, said they recently finished a virtual tour of Riscky’s Bar-B-Q in Dallas, Texas.
“This is one of the spaces that we’re excited about putting on HistoryView because it’s a historic tourist location and I think it’s kind of a kitschy, fun way to start in Texas,” Hickman said.
For now, their focus is on the Dallas area, where the company is headquartered. However, they hope to start capturing as much of Texas as possible.
“I think it’ll almost be like a strange little addiction of ours,” Hickman said. “We want to go spend all day 3D-scanning historical places. At least, that’s what I hope.”
Part of the reasoning behind creating the tours is the idea that being able to experience a place virtually might make people more inclined to actually go visit it, thereby increasing tourism to that location. However, HistoryView.org’s main goal is to be an interactive tool for teachers to use in the classroom.
Nicholas Clayton, a special education teacher in Victorville, California, said the virtual tours benefit his class is more ways than one.
“It is very visually stimulating. A lot of my students learn through pictures and learn through a lot of different ways other than through traditional ways,” Clayton said. “Because they are special education students, they have a lot of different learning needs.”
This isn’t Clayton’s first time using technology in his classroom. He said interactive learning has a bigger impact on both education and teaching.
“I’m a big nerd and techie so I think that I go to the technology first and foremost and I think that it becomes a better experience for me as a teacher as well,” Clayton said.
Lyra said it’s not uncommon for him to receive positive feedback from teachers.
“These students don’t like to read. But then we put them in the VR headsets and they go to the Rosa Parks Museum and they start reading off the wall and asking ‘did MLK really say that quote?’,” Lyra said. “So it’s like we’re able to trick them into learning basically.”
HistoryView.org and Metroplex360 hope to feature Austin’s capitol building as their next virtual tour. In the meantime, Lyra added that teachers should send him suggestions of what they want to see next.