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Shrinking Distances: Using Technology to Open the World to Rural Students by Dr. Steve Canipe

The following article was written based on a longer paper by Dr. Steve Canipe, a Walden University faculty expert who specializes in educational technology for online education degrees.

Introduction: The use of technology in the classroom is more essential every year and teachers must become more and more creative with their teaching techniques. An online education degree, such as an MS in Instructional Design and Technology, can help you improve your use of technology in the classroom. Join us as we hear suggestions from Dr. Steve Canipe on how teachers can expand students’ horizons with the help of virtual field trips.

Shrinking Distances: Using Technology to Open the World to Rural Students by Dr. Steve Canipe

Remember those fun and educational trips outside the school building that students looked forward to taking? Many schools have severely limited or totally curtailed these educational trips. This has been especially true in rural areas. Just getting to an appropriate field trip site may take a major effort and substantial costs. By following the simple procedures included in this article, teachers—such as those with an MS in Education—can overcome those obstacles and once again expose their students to the world outside their classroom.

Is a virtual experience the same as an in-person trip? The answer is obviously, “It’s not the same,” but virtual experiences can help fill the experiential gap and create a more level playing field for rural students and others who might have difficulty traveling. Virtual field experiences can help ensure equity for all students, including special needs students and students in rural areas.

As with any lesson, the first task is to decide what outcomes are to be taught and then decide if a virtual field trip (VFT) can be used effectively to help students achieve the objectives. Once the specific learning objectives have been determined, you can begin to decide what resources are needed and where they can be found.

A simple idea map is a good place to start because, in a practical way, it helps to ensure that activities are congruent and support the teaching/learning objectives. There are numerous idea-mapping software programs available, but regardless of the idea-mapping tool selected, one of the most important things to remember is that ideas may change as you create the VFT experience.

Whenever a VFT is used, whether created by the teacher or by students, it is very important to make sure that all legal, ethical, and fair use issues are considered. This is an area in which teachers holding an education degree such as an EdS in Educational Technology, an MS in Instructional Design and Technology, or a BS in Instructional Design and Technology are well versed. The concept of copyright is very important to present to students and teachers in this time of easy “copy and paste.” If students’ images appear in the project, be sure to get specific parental clearance, even if your school has a blanket permission form. Copyright friendly generally means that as long as the material is being used for noncommercial, educational purposes, the only requirement is to properly cite the owner. One favorite copyright-friendly site with thousands of static images is Pics4Learning.

VFTs, like in-person field trips, should not be undertaken just for the sake of it—consult and follow your curriculum and syllabus guides. A well-thought-out VFT can be simple: a website, a PowerPoint presentation, a video/DVD, or virtual reality images. To help inform decisions on format, it is important to consider how students might use the experience to enhance both the breadth and depth of their learning. With the prevalence of personal devices like smartphones, tablets, and similar devices with educational components, it is possible to have a substantial impact on classroom learning.

Static images like a photograph or moving images like a video can now be integrated with narration using widely available software like iMovie or Windows Movie Maker. Animation is also possible using software like GoAnimate and Anime Studio. It is now possible to create an interactive image called 3DVR (three-dimensional virtual reality) cheaply and easily. Most current model digital cameras and smartphones have the ability to create 3DVR, giving a 360° view of a place or an object. Two of the easiest apps to use, 360 Panorama and Photosynth, are available for free on both iOS and Android platforms. This technology is the same one that allows a consumer to examine a product, a car, or even a house from many different angles. Imagine using this technology to present views of sites that the teacher might have visited but where students cannot easily go.

In summary, the creator of a VFT should:

  1. Decide on the purpose of the VFT, matching the purpose to one or more specific curricular learning objective(s)/outcome(s).
  2. Procure various images (still or moving) needed to create the project.
  3. Decide on the specific delivery method (PowerPoint, Prezi, video, Internet, a mashup, etc.).
  4. Produce a VFT and try it with students.
  5. Evaluate the process and make modifications as needed.
  6. Continue to explore the options and be creative. The most efficacious way to begin a VFT project is to follow the KISS principle (keep it simply simple) and not attempt too many different things on the first try.

Once a teacher has created one or two of these virtual experiences, students often desire to emulate the techniques and technology in subsequent student projects, thereby gaining valuable technology skills and creating meaningful, authentic products, which can be used again in the classroom or posted online. Students in grades 3–12 can easily create these virtual experiences, which can be shared with classmates or with students in lower grade levels.

Dr. Steve Canipe is a faculty expert at Walden University, a leader in online education degree programs. Dr. Canipe specializes in educational technology and its integration into the classroom, the importance of teaching 21st-century skills to students, and STEM education (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). Since 2005, Dr. Canipe has served as the director of master’s programs in science and mathematics and instructional design and technology in The Richard W. Riley College of Education and Human Sciences. Prior to his current job in doctoral research and quality at The Richard W. Riley College of Human Sciences, Dr. Canipe served as the program director of both the EdD and PhD programs.