I'm writing this on a hot noisy bus filled with happy, excited kids. I'm on a field trip to a nearby mountain (more of a big hill, actually, but growing up in Seattle, I have yet to look at any geological feature on the east coast and think "Mountain") to collect samples from a pond and study some small ecosystems. End-of-year field trips are something of a tradition, although the frequent field trips I used to enjoy as a kid have fallen victim to budget cuts and an increased focus on curriculum. , field trips these days are supposed to have "educational value" and "curricular alignment."Aypparently
I'm kidding, of course. A lot of time was wasted on field trips that were always a blast when we were younger but really did kill a fair amount of valuable instructional time. However, field trips themselves are vital to the learning process. It's one thing to read and listen and think about the theory of something in a classroom. It's something else entirely to feel, touch and experience something first hand.
There are plenty of ways to bring kinesthetic learning into the classroom and good teachers will appeal to all of the learning styles among their students. Even the best of teachers, though, can't bring a roller coaster into their classroom to really experience angular acceleration or centripetal force. They can't bring a pond into their room so students can immerse themselves in a myriad of wildlife and talk about metamorphosis and special adaptations to pond life.
So what does this have to do with technology and why do I bring this up in the first place? Well, partly because I'm on a field trip and just saw an incredible number of pond creatures and learned that water tigers will literally eat anything they can get their giant pincers into. Also, because I had a chat this morning with a young man in India who noted that in government-run schools (as well as some private schools which have a far larger percentage of students enrolled than private schools in the US) don't run field trips.
For that matter, there are countless public schools in the US (particularly in poor, urban areas) that tend not to at least have some sort of annual field trip, whether because of funding issues, transportation problems, or even safety concerns.
Enter technology. We heard an outstanding lecture today from one of the rangers at the mountain (hill) where our pond was located. I learned more about metamorphosis today than I did in my high school biology class. There's no reason this lecture shouldn't have been captured and made publicly available, nor is there any reason that we couldn't have filmed the activities capturing and examining the various creatures we had the pleasure of observing today.
Better yet, another class without the opportunity to explore a great, muddy pond could have been connected via Skype or Facetime or some other synchronous tool and asked us questions, asked to see particular creatures up close, or asked which creature had a kid particularly excited. When a kid jumped out of the water with a particularly large bull frog, the class on the other end of the line could have been there and asked to have the webcam aimed at a particular feature of the amphibian.
Is it as good as being there? Of course not, but there's a lot of value for both classes in participating in such an exchange. When field trips can't be managed, a service like ePals or other educational markets could fill the void to ensure that some simple connections can be arranged, giving students opportunities to engage with each other, communicate in news ways, and, most importantly, share an experience that would otherwise be out of reach.
There's a business model here, actually, and I know that plenty of people have run virtual field trips. However, I don't see any reason not to engage students on both ends (actively participating in the field trip and attending it virtually) in the process and experience. The technology is there, the bandwidth is there, educational marketplaces are there. Now we just need to start bringing students and classes together; the virtual field trip doesn't need to be a poor substitute for the real thing.