I read "The beginner's guide to interactive virtual field trips" by Jan Zanetis (Zanetis, 2010). As you may guessed from the article's title, this article is about the exciting teaching opportunity offered by interactive virtual field trips. I idea with a virtual interactive field trip is the whole class as a group using specialized video conferencing equipment can interact with a individual at a far away location. For instance, a class here in North San Diego County could interact, discuss and ask questions with a paleontologist at the Cleveland Natural History Museum, while she leads a tour of the museum via group video conferencing equipment. Another tour may perhaps visit a castle in Scotland with a local historian; the options are nearly endless, as long a the technology is available on both ends. This technology offers students the chance to view a facility and speak an expert at a far-flung location that could never be visited as a class, due to the long distance.
This technology has benefits over a more-traditional field trip. First, the cost could be significantly reduced, though the museum or other facility may likely charge a fee. Nevertheless, if group video conferencing is available within the school district, the cost could be much lower than transporting the whole class there. Second, the class could take the interactive virtual tour in only an hour or so and be back in the classroom ready to have a reflective assignment based on the virtual field trip or move on to another topic, altogether. Traditional field trips, typically occupy the whole day and otherwise valuable teaching time may be lost during transportation times, etc. A virtual tour could be relatively quick. Finally, and likely most-importantly, the class could visit a far off location anywhere on earth, perhaps even outer space, as long as each location has the right technology. A class in San Diego could never take a field trip to a research station in Antarctica and meet with a top atmospheric scientist, but this could be possible with through an interactive virtual tour using group video conferencing equipment.
The Zanetis 2010 article gives links to 16 award-winning interactive virtual tour sites. I checked out a few of them, these being:
The Cleveland Institute of Music at www.cim.edu/dl/index.php,
George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate at www.mountvernon.org/learn/index.cfm,
The Reef HQ Aquarium in Australia at www.reefhq.com.au
and The National WWII Museum at www.nationalww2museum.org.
I was not able to interact with anyone during my short internet visit, as these things of course would need to be organized ahead to time; however, the information these sites offer looked promising. You should check them out yourselves. Below are some screen prints I took of Mount Vernon, Reef HQ Aquarium in Australia and The National WWII Museum websites, respectively.
This interactive virtual tour capability cannot truly replace the excitement of a traditional, in-situ field trip; nevertheless, it can open a wide world experiences to the classroom that could never realistically be reached otherwise, given the distances involved. This interactive virtual tour technology would likely be a fun, engaging and very education opportunity for a classroom. I can't wait to try it!
Zanetis, J. (2010, March/April). The beginner's guide to interactive virtual field trips.Learning and Leading with Technology,37 (6)