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.