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School excursions are taking on a whole new dimension with the advent of videoconferencing. You can now take your class to many places around the world without leaving the classroom!
By Carol Daunt Skyring
Videoconferencing provides many opportunities for teaching and learning, but one of the most interesting is the virtual excursion. There is a wealth of content in far away art galleries, museums, zoos and science centres, and now students can take advantage of these resources through a videoconferencing visit.

Imagine taking your class to meet the robotic Triceratops and Tyrannosaurusrex dinosaurs at Adventure Science Center in Nashville; on a Mission to Mars Challenge with NASA; or diving on the reef with Reef HQ in Townsville? You can do all of this for less than it would cost you to take the class to the local aquarium! A virtual excursion allows you to link live via videoconference to a place of interest and interact with local experts. You can take students to places they would never be able to visit in person and have experiences that may not be possible in person. Your students will be able to participate in live demonstrations and ask questions of the presenters. The presenters are very skilled at involving students and this will certainly not be a case of ‘sit and listen’. There are hundreds of virtual excursions you can experience via videoconference. Below are just a few examples.

One example is Dinosaur Discoveries, which is offered for a range of year levels. Students learn the facts about dinosaurs through fossil replicas and animal artifacts and find out how scientists draw conclusions about the structure and behavior of dinosaurs based on observations of animals living today. They also meet the Center’s robotic Triceratops and Tyrannosaurusrex dinosaurs. The fee for a 45-minute program is $150USD.

NASA Digital Learning Network
NASA offers some fantastic programs and they are all free of charge. One example is Planet Hopping: Exploring the solar system with mathematics. Questions addressed in this session are: How is each planet in our solar system unique? How high can you jump on Mars? How high can you jump on Mercury? In this highly interactive session students use mathematics to explore and learn characteristics of planets in our solar system and they get to tour the universe with NASA. NASA provides a set of materials that you can download from the web and they encourage student participation from the planning stage onwards. They engage in advanced email correspondence to tailor the session to fit the

Adventure Science Center
The Adventure Science Center in Nashville, USA offers a range of programs on subjects from bones to dinosaurs to magnets. They range in price from $95USD to $150USD – that is for the whole program not per student.

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school's curriculum and suggest that questions for the presenter should be sent in advance to focus the presentation on the group's specific needs. Your Reef Videoconferencing experience is supported by comprehensive teaching materials designed to educate students about a range of marine issues. The virtual excursion begins with a ‘Dry Presenter’ who introduces participants to Reef HQ Aquarium and the Great Barrier Reef. A scuba diver then takes students on a virtual dive in the Coral Reef and finishes in the Predator Tank with sharks and other reef predators. During the session, your students can see and hear the diver and ask questions that will be answered immediately from underwater.

Organizing a Virtual Excursion
A videoconference virtual excursion is easy to organize through one of the online databases listing available content. Simply go to the database, enter the topic, subject and/or the place you want to visit and you will be given a range of options to choose from. Each one has an overview of the program, the cost, options for connection speed and information on how to book. Booking is usually through an online form or email directly to the content provider. There are two great online databases for finding virtual excursions:

Introduction to Australia's Great Barrier Reef
Wherever you are in the world, you can experience the Great Barrier Reef with Reef Videoconferencing. Thousands of students around the world participate in this program each year. During this underwater fact-finding mission, your class is transported to the Coral Reef and Predator exhibits at Reef HQ. This 60-minute program costs $295.

New York Institute of Technology Culinary Arts Center

They offer a variety of lessons for learners from the elementary level to higher learning and professional enrichment.

This Center is a leader in culinary education and offers its lessons to learners worldwide through videoconferencing. Students can explore foods, nutrition, and cultural cuisine without ever leaving the classroom. They offer a variety of lessons for learners from the elementary level to higher learning and professional enrichment. A favourite is the chocolate truffle making class – where you get to eat the results!

Polycom Videoconference Program Database
This searchable content database offers access to more than 1,500 programs from over 230 content providers. Updated daily, the database contains content opportunities from such organizations as Global Nomads Group, the Cleveland Institute of Music and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, to name a few. See: http://moourl.com/polycomdb

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Your Reef Videoconferencing experience is supported by comprehensive teaching materials designed to educate students about a range of marine issues.
Center for Interactive Learning & Collaboration (CILC)
This database lists over 150 content providers such as Alaska SeaLife Center, the International Wolf Center and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. You can read content provider biographies to learn how you can contact them and what others are saying about their programs. See: http://moourl.com/cilc Both databases contain programs from the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Spain and Australia. New content providers are constantly being added. The Polycom database allows you to search for only programs available via the connection method you have. Place the microphone in a central location and have students walk up to the microphone and encourage them to speak clearly and distinctly. Have the students give their first name before they ask a question. • Remind students to remain quiet while others are talking - the microphones pick up background noise, and this can be very distracting for the presenter. • You may need to mute the microphone when no one is speaking – discuss this with the presenter. • Some content providers allow you to record the session. If this is the case, have parental permission for this. A virtual excursion can give your students a rich and motivating learning experience doing something they would usually never get to do. So what are you waiting for? Where will you take your students? n Ms. Carol Daunt Skyring has been involved in the design, application and effective use of videoconferencing since 1993 and is recognized internationally as a leader in the field. She holds a Dip T; Grad Dip Dist Ed; B Ed & M Ed (Research) – her thesis investigated the nature of interaction in videoconferencing. Ms. Daunt Skyring has been published in numerous journals and is a frequent speaker at international conferences. Ms. Daunt Skyring writes a popular videoconference blog at http://videoconference.edublogs.org

Getting the Most Out of Your Virtual Excursion
Like any field trip, a virtual excursion requires planning and participation to be successful. Allow several weeks lead-time for booking. Many programs are popular and are booked out months in advance – NASA is one of these. Some tips for making the most of your virtual excursion: • Involve students in the planning process. • It is a good idea to complete a test call before the session. • Give the content provider a detailed overview of your students’ ages, location and their interest in the topic. • Most virtual excursions include pre and post activities that create a rich, in-depth educational experience for your students. Take the time to complete these activities so that students are well prepared to interact with the presenter. • If your students are not familiar with videoconferencing, they may be shy about interacting with the presenter. Encourage them to prepare questions beforehand. • Send a list of student names in advance so that the presenters can call on them. You can facilitate the interaction by calling on students who have questions or answers during the presentation. • Provide an easy mechanism for students to ask questions during the videoconference.

Equipment Needed
To participate in a virtual excursion you must have access to a two-way videoconference system. If you do not have a system in your school you may be able to hire a videoconference room locally. (Check your local TAFE College or University if you have one.) Some content providers can connect via ISDN and IP while others only offer one option. ,

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