Every day new technology is introduced that makes the world a little bit smaller. You can talk with people in all corners of the internet-touched world almost as easily as you can step outside and meet your neighbor. You can tour other countries and learn about their cultures and experiences with a few swift clicks on the keyboard. Higher education and K-12 students can benefit from the variety of experience that these virtual learning tools bring into a classroom. All it requires is a strong internet connection and a willingness to learn.
With a wealth of knowledge and experience within our reach, why should teachers lecture about the Mayan ruins from a textbook when they can virtually visit and create lasting visual memories with their entire class? The experience doesn’t have to end there. It can go even deeper with platforms that connect classrooms all over the world to virtually learn about subjects together while exploring the similarities and differences in their cultures—providing a truly immersive experience. In a world where education must compete with the constant buzz of television and video games, these experiences give students immediate visual stimulus which can increase the amount of information stored in their long-term memory.
What if faculty could take students on an expedition to follow sea turtle tracks in the morning and explore Rome after lunch? With sites like Skype in the Classroom, YouVisit and Google Expeditions they can. Virtual field trips to locations all over the globe offer students and teachers the chance to explore the events and locations they are studying, which broadens and deepens their understanding of the subject. The capabilities, however, go beyond just touring historical landmarks as a class. High school students can tour college campuses of their choice in high-definition as if they were there—enabling them to make a more informed decision about the next major step in their lives.
Classes have used video conferencing to host literature discussions, hold debates, compete in landmark challenges, and share ideas and resources with similar classes in other schools. A third-grade classroom in Michigan partnered with a classroom in a desert location to compare the differences in their seasons. Real teachers and real students a thousand miles away from one another worked together in real time on a lesson the students will not soon forget. If a school can envision the idea, then resources like the Center of Interactive Learning and Collaboration can help turn it into a reality. For the higher education students, colleges have begun to utilize video chatting in college interviews, making it imperative that they are comfortable using technology in a professional manner.
High profile guest lecturers can be brought into the classroom via video chatting to talk on any subject. Classrooms could have a conversation with a marine biologist, the Busch Gardens Penguin Educator or hear about the Gnaraloo Turtle Conversation Program. Not only would they get to learn about these fields of study, but they will hear from someone who is passionately involved in them. Video conferencing allows for flexibility in scheduling that an in-person visits lacks. Another way to benefit students would be to host a virtual Career Exploration Day where students can talk one-on-one with people in the career paths they are most interested in pursuing.
Virtual learning tools have enabled schools to introduce the diversity of the world inside each one of their classes.