Students have a natural curiosity to explore the world around them and as educators, it’s our duty to ensure we expose them to as many real-world experiences as possible. Of course, excursions and camps create wonderful memories for students to treasure for a lifetime, but they can also be quite costly and many teachers simply do not have the time to take students away from the classroom environment.
Virtual excursions are a great alternative, allowing students to engage with the world around them, without having to step foot outside of the physical classroom. And given technology has come such a long way, students are spoiled for choice when it comes to choosing the best places around the world to visit.
Using video conferencing and its associated technologies, students are able to visit locations across the globe and interact in real time with other students, teachers and content specialists.
Policy statements from the Department of Education outline guidelines for planning excursions, many of which are still relevant to virtual excursions.
In particular, issues of curriculum relevance and educational value; duty of care and risk management; child protection; parental consent; and appropriate student behaviour should be considered when planning virtual excursions.
Knowing where to get started can be challenging, so here are some handy hints for planning your next virtual excursion:
1. Pick the location
Trips range from the simple, such as a photo tour of a famous museum, to extremely detailed and high-tech excursions that offer video and audio segments to make the visit more interactive. It is imperative you determine the educational value of the excursion and how it relates back to the content you’re teaching in the classroom.
2. Prepare students for the virtual excursion
Just like any school activity, it pays to be organised. Ensure students are aware of what they will be doing so they can bring the appropriate tools to class. For example, headphones are useful for virtual excursions as they eliminate excess noise in the classroom. It is also essential that you plan an inclusive excursion, ensuring all students in the specific learning group, including those with disabilities or speakers of an additional language, are to be given the opportunity to participate.
3. Take yourself on the virtual excursion first
While it’s great to see students taking initiative and independently exploring the virtual world they are studying, they will inevitably run into road blocks along the way. It is important you have a working knowledge of the software they’re using so you can assist students with any technical hiccups. It is also a good idea to take into account the age of students involved, as it may pay to have parent helpers on hand to assist you in the classroom.
4. Check all the infrastructure is in working order
Do you have enough computers or laptops for students? Will your school’s Wi-Fi network handle all students using it at the same time? Is the software supported on all the devices? Have you checked the audio quality of the program? Do you require a projector to navigate the excursion on the big screen?
5. Consolidate the learning
While students are on the virtual excursion, encourage them to take notes about what they’re learning and have students share their experiences afterwards with their peers. Or perhaps you could start a class hashtag or create a backchannel that students can use to post questions and comments during the event. It is always great to have students share their knowledge with others.