Simulated Field Experiences

Getting out of the classroom is almost always a relief for students. Teachers typically enjoy it as well, albeit less so if the students are coming along. I’m kidding! I always loved field trips with students. I do recall that the administrative burden was irritating and legal burden of leaving school grounds with students was worrisome.  Those practical considerations aside, just about any contemporary theory of learning and development will argue that field experiences should happen as often as can possibly be facilitated. I think this is supported by the fact that while I regret a few of my lectures or activities that bored or confounded students, I do not regret a single trip, as they all provided memorable, fun learning experiences.

Simulated field experiences can be either a second-best option or can offer good pre and post trip activities. Gigapan allows users to upload and view very large pictures. The images are so large, they allow a level of zoom that feels to the viewer like “traveling” through the image.  They are typically so detail rich, one image alone could be the topic of a lecture or an assignment. A teacher can throw with a digital projector onto big screen to support a short lecture or class discussion. An instructor could also use an image as a source material for an assignment requiring individuals or small groups to explore the images, both at a wide-angle view and in close detail.

Special cameras are used to capture many of the following images, but you may be surprised by the resolution of some older technologies. Be sure to use the zoom feature and wait for the image to clarify if you have a slower connection.

mLearning: Education on a Wireless Plan

The term mobile learning, or mLearning, refers to the use of mobile devices as part of a structured learning experience. Although learning in the field is not a new idea, using technology to asynchronously link teachers and students outside of the classroom is.  Recent mobile technologies are impacting mLearning in substantial ways.

  • map/navigation software on mobile devices
  • GPS (longitude/latitude/altitude) function of mobile devices
  • QR codes – can link a mobile user to a physical location or a location to a website viewed on mobile
  • Instant wireless upload capability of mobiles to Web 2.o tools
  • Augmented reality – by taking advantage of a mobile devices camera, accelerometer, and GPS, users can view their surroundings through their phone. Similar to the heads-up displays in modern aircraft.
  • podcasting – an instance of “flipping” the classroom
One of the hurdles that schools face is making content relevant to students’ social and professional lives. Many bored or frustrated students ask, “Why am I learning this?” mLearning methods allows teachers to respond to this question by blurring the line between academia and experience. These methods have the potential to mix “book smart” and “street smart”. Ideally, learning and life become one holistic entity. Looking across human history, we see our “traditional” classroom as an aberration, with most learning happening in genuine contexts. mLearning allows teachers to “Cry Havoc and let slip the dogs of war [or lore!]”.
I have an exhibit in Artomatic 2012 that demonstrates a few simple instances of how QR codes can be used for mLearning. It’s an unusual venue to present a topic in education but a very good location for mLearning experiences.  The QR codes link to materials that support different types of mobile learning experiences. Viewable on the ninth floor, my space is on north side past the double glass doors.  (Spoiler: The answer to question 2 in my exhibit is “The type of rock in the lobby is granite. The lighter color is caused by the predominance of orthoclase feldspar and quartz. The key is finding the rock that is a mix of several minerals as shown in the table, one of which looks like the orthoclase feldspar in the image”.)
Another example of mLearning could be a Facebook group created for a Spanish class. Students would turn the language setting on their Facebook accounts to Spanish and leave it there for the year. Homework assignments could be given through Facebook each week. Students would upload topical photos or videos and caption them in Spanish. Other students could also respond in Spanish. Learning experiences should be  relevant to students’ lives and mLearning is one way to facilitate this.
A third example is this Google Map of Presidential Memorials. High school or college students could use this as a basis for a walking tour. A teacher could provide writing or talking prompts to which students could respond by uploading captioned photos to Picasa or videos to Youtube. Took me about ten minutes to make and will give students a two-hour field experience to be completed at their convenience.