Virtual Field Trips creating global networks in the Primary school classroom
It has been well documented that the integration of technology can support, enhance and has the potential to transform teaching and learning (Kirkland, 2014; Taylor, 2007). Students are coming to school with the knowledge and skills to operate technology and the Internet; educators must ensure they are equipped with the ability to cater for their students, the curriculum and the 21st century (Keengwe & Onchwari, 2011). Parker, Maor and Herrington (2013) state that ‘a key challenge for educators is linking learner needs, pedagogy and technology in order to construct more interactive, engaging and student-centred environments that promote 21st century skills’ (p. 227). Many schools are filled with technological devices and are making full use of E-learning principals and theories to inform and guide authentic teaching and learning. Some schools, particularly teachers, within schools are still behind the ball in terms of the prospect and possibilities that technology can afford their classroom and students (Ertmer, 2005). The Ministerial Council on Education, Employment and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA,) (2008) outlined in the Melbourne Declaration of Goals for Young Australians that:
Rapid and continuing advances in information and communication technologies (ICT) are changing the ways people share, use and process information and technology. In this digital age, young people need to be highly skilled in the use of ICT. While schools already employ these technologies in learning, there is a need to increase their effectiveness significantly over the next decade. (p.5)
Technology provides limitless educational possibilities, but a more critical stance needs to be taken to ensure that classroom technology integration is transformative and enhances learning (Selwyn, 2015). Skills such as problem solving, critical and creative thinking, collaboration, communication, global citizenship and reflection are essential for students to develop in the primary years (Rednecker & Johannessen, 2013). Prensky (2012) stated that technology should not be used to merely replace existing foundations but to do new things in new ways. Teachers need to ensure they help students create connections between themselves and content, other students, and the world around them (Keengwe & Onchwari, 2011). The theories of constructivism and connectivism are present in the literature on E-Learning as the concepts of student-centered learning, seamless 24/7 learning, creating meaning for learning, and the 21st century skills addressed above are promoted (Carter & Crichton, 2014; Siemens, 2005). The Australian Curriculum (Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), 2014) outlines the content and skills Australian students need to achieve by the end of each year level. These are also supported by cross-curriculum priorities and general capabilities such as:
Critical and creative thinking
Personal and social capability
Moving forward, a critical approach towards E-Learning needs to be taken to ensure teaching and learning is transformative.
Statement of the problem
Through a combination of ensuring the curriculum, student’s needs and the school day/year are met; it can be easy for teachers to become complacent with just ‘getting the work done’ (Australian Government, Department of Education and Training, 2014). From personal experience, it can become easy to fall into handing out piles of worksheets and allowing students to talk about concepts rather than experience them (Downes, 2006). Innovation, transformation and creativity are all words that teachers would love to uphold, however, time and other demands can get in the way. A problem that has been encountered includes the undervaluing of the cross-curriculum priorities and 21st century skills addressed above (Australian Government, Department of Education and Training, 2014). Particularly allowing students to connect what they are learning to the real world, to collaborate with people outside their school, to create solutions to problems with creative and critical thinking and be involved in critical reflection (Pailey, 2013; Parker, Maor, & Herrington, 2013).
This Design Based Report is proposes a project to be implemented in a Primary school context using the principals of Networked and Global Learning (NGL). There is minimal literature to illustrate the use of NGL concepts within primary education in Australia. NGL, while hard to define, can be split into various networks between learners and experts, other learners, and resources/content (Goodyear, 2005) within a global learning community (Cochrane, Buchem, Camacho, Cronin, Gordon, & Keegan, 2013). Goodyear (2005) suggests that:
Successful networked learning depends, to a considerable extent, on well-targeted effort at design time – designing good learning tasks, ensuring good access to robust and appropriate technology, and helping create a convivial learning culture (p. 84).
The proposal will investigate the use of video conferencing and specifically Virtual Fieldtrips (VT) into the classroom. The report will outline the current literature surrounding this topic and then state the description of the proposed intervention.
Key research question:
Which Networked and Global Learning principals could be applied to the use of Virtual Fieldtrips in the primary classroom?
Two marginal questions have also been proposed:
- How can educators ensure Virtual Fieldtrips help students to develop global citizenship qualities through connecting with other students, schools and cultures?
- How can Virtual Fieldtrips ensure learning moves towards the redefinition stage of the SAMR model?
Videoconferencing has been around for quite some time as individuals and groups of people interact with each other through video/camera software, technological devices and the internet (Barniskis & Thompson, 2012). Videoconferencing in Australia has been used to connect rural and remote located students, teachers and communities to education, resources and professional development (Reading, Fluck, Trinidad, Anderson & White, 2008). This report will look specifically at the use of Virtual Fieldtrips (VF) and the potential it can have in the primary classroom. It will look specifically at identifying if global education, networked learning and the general capabilities of the Australian Curriculum can be addressed with VF.
Field trips are often referred to as excursions in Australia and include students going outside of their classroom and school to experience different learning opportunities (Morgan, 2015). Morgan (2015) suggests that while students love going on these excursions they do cost money and take time to plan and complete relevant risk management forms. VT allows educators and students to go on these excursions without having to leave their seats or classrooms. They provide access to other students, experts and resources across the globe such as NASA, historic museums and scientific laboratories (Zanetis, 2010). Australian educators are already harnessing VT in the classrooms and this has been documented especially by a initiative of Connected Classrooms in New South Wales (NSW) schools in 2007 (Groundwater-Smith, 2010). One of the goals of this project was to enable the use of VT to allow collaboration with other student’s schools and the access to experts with videoconferencing (Groundwater-Smith, 2010). When completing an Internet search to look for VT providers, it is clear to see that there are multiple opportunities for students and educators to obtain. Distance And Rural Technologies (DART) connections is a website create by the NSW Department of Education and Communities for Australian schools to access VT that support and enrich the Australian curriculum and provide access to experts across the globe. There are scheduled excursions (VF) to places such as Questacon, virtual dives into the Great Barrier Reef and Indigenous art workshops (DART Connections, 2012). Another great provider for VT and schools is the Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration (CILC) created through the Global Alliance through Innovative Thinking. This website hosts a plethora of opportunities for students to work across geographic and cultural boundaries (Barniskis, & Thompson, 2012) as they connect specially with schools across the globe on shared topics and go on various VF with different content providers (CILC, 2015).
Davy (2014) states that now more than ever, schools need to prepare students for the future and that global citizenship must become part of the curriculum. Davy (2014) also states that there is a growing need for a curriculum that develops open-mindedness, intercultural understanding and comfort with plurality and complexity in our globalized world (p.9). NGL is a concept that is forward thinking in creating a way for teachers to guide their teaching and learning to prepare students for the future. VF allows students to make connections and networks with students, experts, ideas and resources and access these from all over the world (Morgan, 2015). It is believed that VF encapsulate the potential that NGL principals can have to help students develop the skills that Davy (2014) outlines as those needed for digital citizenship:
Ability to challenge injustice
Cooperation and conflict resolution
The ability to choose a means of responding
Technology skills. (P.8).
These also align with the general capabilities of intercultural and ethical understanding, creative and critical thinking and Personal and social capability (ACARA, 2014). VF also allow educators to align fieldtrips with the cross curriculum priorities such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures, Asia and Australia’s engagement with Asia and Sustainability (ACARA, 2014). Furthermore, VF are also a great opportunity for teachers to align the key learning areas such as the Arts, Science, Technology and History through interacting with experts in these fields, collaborating with other students around the world on joint projects or creating content to share with others (McDermon, 2010; Zanetis, 2010). VF really allow chances for students to be involved in what they are learning, to formulate questions and meanings from ideas, to collaborate and communicate with other students, link learning with real life problems, and be engaged and inspired whilst doing these things (Morgan, 2015; Zanetis, 2010)
While the perceived benefits have been outlined above it is important to consider the limitations to VF. Groundwater-Smith (2010) outlines some limitations encountered by educators as part of the Connected Classrooms project discussed above. When using technology and the internet there is always the chance of lost or low signal/connection, time zones, cost of video equipment and of the VF, language and cultural barriers, and the time of the meeting (asynchronous) (Barniskis, & Thompson, 2012; Groundwater-Smith, 2010). Barniskis and Thompson (2012) questions if you can replace human interactions with that of a virtual presence of an individual or group; are meanings lost and how do you stay on track? While these are limitations that need to be taken into consideration if educators are to use VF in their classroom, these concepts can be avoided or minimised through careful planning, scaffolding and consideration of these before commencing (Morgan, 2015).
Morgan (2015) lists these guidelines for creating and participating in VF:
- Identify the national and state standards you will use
- Select the content, such as images or video for asynchronous VF, or choose an expert for a VF requiring video conferencing technology.
- Decide on the software (PowerPoint, Movie Maker, YouTube, Internet, etc.).
- Test the finished VF to make sure the audio works, the video plays, etc. For VF using videoconferencing software, practice connecting with a guest.
- Plan activities that engage students, build vocabulary and promote problem solving.
- End the VF by allowing students an opportunity to reflect.
It is believed that this is a good backbone of principals to consider before, throughout and after a VF experience. It is also important to minimise and try to avoid the limitations addressed above. Technical issues sometimes cannot be avoided, however, careful planning and preparation of the event can be taken to avoid wasting time and misunderstandings occurring. It is important to ensure the VF aligns to the curriculum and is appropriate to the students learning needs.
This proposal will be specifically for a middle years class located in the Brisbane Catholic Diocese. Recently teachers from these schools have completed a professional development session via videoconferencing about VF. The two sessions were run by Jan Zanetis and included teachers and administrations staff over the diocese. This proposal will look specifically at the use of the CILC website and in particular the ability for students to connect with experts (content providers) across the globe as well as being able to connect with another school on a joint project or topic.
Some of the content providers provide free VF, however, most do have a cost associated with them. As part of the Brisbane Catholic Education system teachers are given $100 to go towards this website. Teachers must put in a request for a specific VF prior to the event, once approved the VF can go ahead. Schools in this diocese are already equipped with videoconferencing materials and so the teacher would need to book out this learning space prior to the event.
As part of the CILC website educators are able to look through the collaboration tab to see teachers and experts from around the world that would like to connect. They have written a short description about what they are looking for and specific details such as year level and learning area. This is an example taken from the website:
Teachers can also put up their own collaboration request to see if any schools are interested. This is one option that the CILC website could be used for, the other is based on content providers and this encompasses a VF with an expert in a relevant field. Within Geography students learn specifically about various continents and there are many VF that allow students to be able to be transported to one of these places, find out about the culture, talk to an expert (e.g. a worker at the Alaska sea museum) that is living in this area and actually see what they have been learning about in class (CILC, 2015).
The Substitution, Augmentation, Modification and Redefinition (SAMR) model can be used to ensure that this proposal has the potential to enhance and transform learning for students (Romrell, Kidder & Wood, 2014). This proposal looks at moving past the substitution and augmentation level and focuses on the modification and redefinition stage as students are able to participate in learning activities that would not have been possible without the video conferencing features of VF (Romrell, Kidder & Wood, 2014). Students may never get a chance to visit the Great Barrier Reef and actually go under water and see the marine life, they might also never get to ask specific questions to an expert that works at NASA without the features of VF (CILC, 2015).
These following guidelines have been created for the use of VF based on the literature review above:
- Ensure your school/classroom is equipped with the necessary video conferencing hardware and software for the VF. Create an account with the CILC website to view the various VF options. Make yourself familiar with the features and options you can use on this website.
- Ensure curriculum alignment so that the key learning area descriptors and general capabilities are at the forefront.
- Receive permission from your school administration to go forward with the VF process (cost, time frame, prior learning and scaffolding for students- especially for the first VF experience, follow up/support with the chose content provider or school).
- Identify the type of content, activities and interaction students and other participants will have within the learning event. Get in contact with the expert or school prior to the session and outline the structure for the event, questions that you or the students may like addressed and any resources that will be used or referred to. At this stage of the process it is important to consider the potential for the event to help students connect with Global citizenship skills and values. These need to be a focus in the planning and implementation stages.
- Prepare students (expectations of behaviour and involvement in the vent, students could create questions they may like to ask prior to session), background information on the event and people they will be interacting with).
- Reflection and follow up activities (stay in contact, further VF sessions, blog/email etc.).
This Design Based Report has examined the use of VF and their potential to creating global networks in the Primary school classroom. The research questions were considered throughout the literature review where both the potential benefits and limitations were outlined. Draft principals based on the literature were provided and then a set of instructions for educators was developed to ensure the learning activity of VF aligned with the SAMR model for learning to be transformative and also encapsulate the constructivist/connectivist learning theory (Romrell, Kidder & Wood, 2014). Looking forward, the proposal created is being rolled out in schools across the Brisbane Catholic Diocese and while more research is needed to ensure it aligns with NGL principals, it is exciting for both teachers and students as the potential value to education has been recognised.
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