An insight into the use of virtual field trips
When I tell people that I’m a virtual field trip teacher, I can get a variety of responses ranging from confusion and scepticism through to surprise and even envy. It can be challenging to explain what a virtual field trip is, and what it isn’t. Sometimes people struggle with the concept, thinking that real field trips are being replaced by online programmes. But in reality, virtual field trips can provide the inspiration for rich learning journeys and spark community involvement.
The Virtual Great Walker field trip
Last term I was involved in the ‘Virtual Great Walker’ field trip and I have to admit that initially I had some concerns. Firstly the plan was to only walk part of the track as a day walk. Secondly this trip had to inspire action, as the great walks cannot be fully appreciated virtually and they certainly can’t be done from the comfort of your own home. How could this trip inspire youngsters to take the virtual into reality and get walking?
The field trip needed to capture the essence of the world-famous Routeburn Track, but this posed some challenges. We knew that we would not be able to access the website if we walked all of the Routeburn Track, and we would have to carry all our filming equipment. I felt that we had to walk the whole track to do it justice, so a plan was developed. We would walk the Routeburn over the weekend so we could be ready to talk to students during audioconferences back in Queenstown during the week.
Behind the scene
Usually, our field trips involve daily audioconferences and activities, with experts who feature in videos and answer students’ questions in pre-booked audioconferences. These daily activities are followed by an evening of frantic effort back in an area with an Internet connection. Each night two people from the LEARNZ team edit videos, write diaries and ambassador updates, and upload images to the LEARNZ site so students can see what has happened the very next day. This material stays online for students to revisit or use retrospectively. For this field trip we would have to film everything over the weekend and then upload it to the site over the following three days.
Before starting the field trip, background pages were developed on the website to allow students to build their knowledge of New Zealand’s Great Walks, their biodiversity, and how to safely complete such a walk. These pages are designed to give just enough detail to inform students of key concepts so they can start more focused, meaningful inquiries of their own, and ask quality questions during the field trip audioconferences.
Experts to guide the way
The next challenge was how to organise transport to the beginning of the track near Te Anau and from the end of the track in Glenorchy. Susie Geh from the Department of Conservation (DOC) in Queenstown made this all possible and accompanied us on the walk. LEARNZ works hard to make connections between experts and students. It can be difficult to find people willing to take time out of their busy schedules to help on trips, and not everyone is able to communicate well with students. Fortunately, over the years, we have met some fantastic experts. I have worked with Ruud Kleinpaste (aka the Bugman) on a number of trips, and knew that, alongside Susie and other DOC staff, he would make the perfect addition to the team. After numerous phone calls and lots of organisation, I managed to meet Ruud, Susie, and videographer Pete Sommerville from LEARNZ, in Queenstown.
The adventure begins
From here, Susie drove us to Te Anau where we stayed the night ready to begin our walk the following day. After picking up hut tickets and checking the weather, we drove to The Divide where we met members of the Kids Restore the Kepler group. They wanted to go for a day walk and share some of the work that they have been doing on the Kepler Great Walk. These students were knowledgeable and passionate about Fiordland, and bringing birdsong back to the area. It was great to be able to share their work with students from all over the country.
Rain set in after lunch, making our portrayal of the western side of the Alps authentic. Moss-covered beech forest kept us all enthralled as we spotted different birds and invertebrates. Ruud could barely contain his enthusiasm as he leapt from one rotten log to another in search of bugs. A night at McKenzie Hut saw us refreshed, ready for the climb over Harris Saddle. The weather cleared and we were rewarded with stunning views over the Hollyford. The camera hardly spent any time in the pack as we tried to capture the essence of the area and our journey through it.
That evening Ruud took us bug hunting by torchlight, and it was intriguing to discover species I had never seen before. Our final day on the track led us downhill to the road end, where students from nearby Glenorchy School greeted us. They are an Enviroschool, and were keen to share some of the work they have been doing in pursuit of their Green Gold Award. An Enviroschool is a school whose entire curriculum is based around the main theme of sustainability and they can work with their community to achieve bronze, silver and green gold awards.
These students make money for the school through selling vegetables. They also source local native seeds to grow seedlings in their nursery. These seedlings will be planted nearby to help restore a wetland area.
Where to from here
DOC had arranged a pick up for us, so we all piled into the car and headed back to Queenstown ready for a long-awaited hot shower. Experiences such as these are impossible to fully capture through a virtual field trip, but they’re not supposed to. While talking to students in the audioconferences that followed, I could hear the enthusiasm of students from different parts of the country. Many spoke of the plans they had to get out and about on tracks in their own area, and some had formed groups to help restore parts of their local environment. Seeing students inspired by field trips such as this is what the use of digital technology should be about. We need to use technology to engage and inform students so they are inspired to form new ideas, collaborate, and take action. We need to make the virtual a reality![slideshow_deploy id=’6965′]