The Value of Field Trips (Ongoing Series)

teacher-student-laptop1906379This month’s expert from the Education Week field trip series of articles, sings the praises of the virtual field trip through video conferencing in the classroom with other students or experts in their fields.

Response From Gail Desler

Gail Desler is a technology integration specialist for the Elk Grove Unified School District in Elk Grove, Calif. She also serves on the advisory committee for the California K12 High Speed Network (K12HSN), a state program funded by the California Department of Education for the purpose of providing educators, students and staff across the state with access to the high speed network needed to videoconference. Beyond the school day, she co-curates the Digital ID Project, a global microphone for students to speak out on digital citizenship issues:

Whether it’s in preparation for, or as a follow-up to, or instead of a real-time field trip, videoconferencing is an amazing digital tool for maximizing the learning potential of field trips. I’ve been tapping into the power of videoconferencing for over 10 years, connecting students with authors, poets, soils engineers, astronauts, park rangers, other classrooms, and more. Yet for as unlimited as the possibilities for videoconferencing are, it is surprising how few educators are taking advantage of this technology.

Eleven years ago, I rented a district van and drove a group of students from a continuation high school over to California State University, Sacramento, so they could virtually meet with students from a continuation high near Santa Barbara. These two groups had already been blogging on the topic of a banned book: Luis Rodriguez‘ “Always Running, Gang Days in East L.A.”  Minutes into the videoconference, Luis Rodriguez joined us from somewhere in Los Angeles. Weeks later, the students were still discussing and blogging about—when they didn’t have to—the virtual field trip, an experience that, given the distances, would not have been possible in real time.

Soon after the CSU Sacramento/UC Santa Barbara event, renting a bus or van was no longer necessary. By purchasing a Tandberg videoconferencing camera, I was able to bring videoconferencing directly into the classroom. Taking students on virtual field trips to California’s State Parks via the Parks Online Resources for Teachers and Students (PORTS), for instance, has increasingly become an integral part of the school day. As you can see from this videoconference on the life cycle of monarch butterflies or this videoconference to a California Gold Rush town, it’s a two-way flow of information, with students learning from the park rangers, but also becoming active researchers and investigators as they share their understandings and growing expertise on the topic.

Today, a (pricey) videoconferencing camera is a thing of the past. Using any device with a webcam, teachers and students can take virtual field trips with free programs such as Skype or Google Hangouts. A visit to NASAPORTSNational ParksSkype, or CILC will provide you with a glimpse into the many ways to prepare for, create, or extend field trip teaching and learning options.

Recently, a tech support person from my department shared that he had started out one very rainy morning at an elementary school site, helping the teacher set up a webcam for a videoconference with NASA. He noticed the level of student engagement and participation, and would have enjoyed staying for the full 40-minute session, but he had to get to another elementary site. He arrived at the next school in time to find four classes waiting in the rain for buses that were apparently delayed. He, of course, felt the need to suggest to the teachers, “You might want to look into taking virtual field trips. No buses, no permission slips, no hassles.”

It is wonderful to have the budget for real-time field trips. However, if we structure virtual field trips in ways that allow students to connect and collaborate with each other, as well as with the experts, then virtual field trips can certainly be the next best option—or sometimes even the better learning option.

From Education Week, Great Field Trips Expand the Mind,’ by Larry Ferlazzo on December 12, 2016.

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