One of the most exciting aspects of learning today is that technology can provide access to resources that were previously out of reach. No longer are students bound within the often static structure of textbooks and limited local resources.
With the rapid advancement of affordable devices, free and affordable software, and internet access, our students can reach the far corners of our planet. Luckily, museums, libraries and other organizations are joining with schools to offer access to both physical and virtual opportunities.
Many museums now offer makerspaces and after-school programs, and universities have developed low-cost materials to spark students’ imagination and interest, such as the Carnegie Mellon CREATE Lab). Other sources create virtual windows into their rich materials and resources, engagement with experts and other possibilities far beyond the flat words on a textbook page.
Bringing scientists into the classroom
The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., is one example of a traditional organization that’s breaking down the walls of the museum to provide access to its experts and resources to students in science classes nationwide. Thanks to a pilot partnership with Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS), students can experience live interactions with the museums’ staff and take a virtual field trip that brings exhibits into their classroom.
Students can also prepare projects that demonstrate their research and understanding of topics and present them to Smithsonian experts. The experts then provide feedback that scaffolds students’ understanding to take learning to a deeper level.
“They find common ground in the fact that scientists, whose research has helped our understanding of natural phenomena and space exploration, were once curious elementary students just like them. This empowers our students to dream big and see themselves as STEM professionals,” explains Michelle Hughes-Linnere, science curriculum manager for CPS.
Virtual reality offers extraordinary vantage point
Teachers around the globe are taking their students on virtual reality (VR) fieldtrips that rival the fascinating excursions conducted by Mrs. Frizzle and her “Magic School Bus” adventures by using inexpensive tools, such as Google Cardboard ($10) and free virtual reality (VR) apps on their cell phones.
Students can hike through exotic lands like the Amazon rainforest without fear of getting malaria, dive to the depths of the Great Barrier Reef to monitor the health of the coral reefs and discover the secrets of the Incas by exploring Machu Picchu.
Art museums throughout the world offer virtual tours sorted by collection, artist or decade.
After one of these rich experiences, students can use free resources, such as Skype in the Classroom, to connect with experts to engage in scholarly dialogue to make their experience more meaningful and academically relevant or to interact with learners in other parts of the world.
Students can also meet with authors after reading their books in class, engage with professionals in careers of interest or develop pen-pal relationships with students on another continent thanks to videoconferencing.
Here are a few steps to get started with virtual learning:
Explore the lesson plans and enrichment ideas in the already scheduled experiences established on the Skype in the Classroom website to evaluate where you might find a intersection between your curriculum and the interest of your students.
Contact your local zoo, aquarium and museums to find out how their work might connect with your curriculum and discover ways they’re using technology to provide digital access to their resources.
Lynne Schrum, Ph.D., is author of the ISTE book Learning Supercharged: Digital Age Strategies and Insights from the EdTech Frontier. She is a professor in the Abraham S. Fischler College of Education at Nova Southeastern University in Broward County, Florida. Previously, she served as dean of the College of Education and Human Services at West Virginia University. Her research and teaching focus on appropriate uses of information technology, preparing school leaders and teachers for the 21st century, and effective and successful online teaching and learning. She has written and edited 16 books and numerous articles, and she’s a past editor of the Journal of Research on Technology in Education (JRTE) (2002-12; 2016-18). Schrum is also a past president of ISTE.
Sandi Sumerfield, Ed.D., has been a classroom teacher, literacy coach, administrator, adjunct faculty and education consultant. Her research and teaching focus is on visual literacy skills to empower students as writers and thinkers. She’s passionate about supporting educators in creating a classroom community that embraces social justice and develops a culturally responsive pedagogy that lifts student voice through writing.