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2001 Gwen Gawith: Digitised Cinderellas

2001 Cathy de Moll: The Internet and September 11 disaster

2001 Mark Treadwell: Cognitive and conceptual development

2001 Gillian Eadie: ICT directions

2001 Rob Green: Integrating ICT into the secondary curriculum: PD for teachers

2001 Gwen Gawith: Garbage detection is a key component of information literacy

2000 Ron Johnston: Knowledge is abundant, but the ability to use it is scarce

2000 Stuart Hale: The last communication revolution.

1999 Pete Sommerville: Virtual field trips.

1999 Gwen Gawith: An open letter to Bill Gates.

1999 Gwen Gawith: Hype, hope or information literacy.

1998 Mark Treadwell: The emperor's new computer.

1998 Nola Campbell: A conversation about being online.

1998 Gwen Gawith: Intelligent technologies: Teaching for information literacy.

1997 Gwen Gawith: Technology and ODL: Rent an information literate luddite!

1997 Gwen Gawith: Technology and learning.

1996 Gwen Gawith: IT: charms or challenges.

1994 Gwen Gawith: new technologies: new skills for information literacy.

information literacy:
ICT & learning online


This article was published in Good Teacher Term 1 1999

Pete Sommerville

The thing about learning in schools is that it happens more often than not at a desk. The same desk. Monday to Friday 40 weeks of the year. The subject changes regularly, the context shifts from one area to another, the people move around a bit, but mostly it's that same desk.

Stimulating lessons have a habit however, of engaging the mind in such a way that the desk is not the centre of the student's reality. The mind is elsewhere curving in and out of another reality. These mind games are where learning is at its most effective. Questions demanding answers; knowledge and skills being extended in small manageable increments.

Information and Communication Technologies enhance the ability to leave the reality of the school desk. The relatively simple task of talking with someone at a remote location can bring the reality of their circumstance to the classroom; images, diary entries and explanations uploaded to the web can be viewed immediately; email conversations between literally hundreds of students can expand a discussion. The virtual field trip is born.

Effective virtual field trips are cemented in reality. A real location, real people, real time. The reality selected, clearly needs to have some special characteristics to draw learners in. Lets face it a virtual field trip to the corner dairy isn't going to excite most learners. It helps to be unique, out of the ordinary and beyond the reach of most learners. That doesn't necessarily mean remote Pacific atolls, or the Himalayas.

It may mean unique access. A journey through the city sewer, a visit to a local dairy farm, a guided tour through the history of the Northland gumfields, environmental research in Fiordland.

Like any successful field trip learners on a Virtual Field trip need to be well prepared. The teaching programme leading up to it needs to be well resourced, the topics well researched. Plenty of opportunities here for developing information literacy skills: reading, thinking, researching and analysing and processing information. Familiarity and understanding of the remote reality is critical for the field trip to be successful.

Then the Field Trip. No money to collect. No bumpy bus rides or squashed lunches. We're at that desk. That same old desk. The speaker phone cracks into life and suddenly we're .... elsewhere. The questions come thick and fast. The web site shows close up pictures of the people we're talking to and "there's the thingy she was talking about". The audioconference fires up a raft of questions. The listserver shows other people in other schools have similar questions. Remote experts provide the answers.

Virtual Field Trips can be an absorbing classroom exercise. In some schools registered with LEARNZ in recent years, Virtual Reality has been translated into 'actual reality' with classrooms turned into icebergs and penguin rookeries.

The Real People in the remote location need to be well prepared for their role in the Field Trip. They need to be familiar with their audience and the time constraints of an audioconference. It's great too if they are expressive and passionate about their topic. They need to know that learners aren't always sure about what it is they're asking; that a good answer promotes further research and that above all else learner curiosity must be encouraged.

One model for creating effective Virtual Field Trips uses a facilitating teacher: someone who experiences the reality. They can assist in creating resources, stage manage audioconferences, upload digital imagery and web pages and contribute to the listserver. It is their accounts of what they saw, smelt, heard and felt that add to the impression of the experience.

This person, as a teacher, acts as a mentor for other teachers and as the eyes and ears of the learner. It is their task to ensure that resources are curriculum targeted, pedagogically sound and relevant. Not always an easy task when the reality is the physics of Antarctic sea ice!

But there are other models. A Real class Field Trip can become a Virtual Field Trip for a distant school: perhaps a school on the other side of the globe. Imagine an Inuit class virtually visiting your local timber yard! Or your class virtually visiting an Inuit fishing camp. Whatever the model, the successful Virtual Field Trip is grounded in a strong information base and interaction with real people doing real things. The technologies that make the experience possible need to be transparent: it is the fired-up imagination that transports the learner away from the desk to the remote location.

Pete Sommerville, of Heurisko, is the LEARNZ Project Manager His background as a teacher and web designer has given the award-winning LEARNZ projects a worldwide reputation for educational excellence. Visit the LEARNZ site on