If asked by administrative officials at a high school which distance learning technologies which would provide the best learning experience for history students taking a virtual field trip to a museum, I would tell them that according to a recent Pew Report

“American teenagers today are utilizing the interactive capabilities of the internet as they create and share their own media creations. Fully half of all teens and 57% of teens who use the internet could be considered Content Creators. They have created a blog or webpage, posted original artwork, photography, stories or videos online or remixed online content into their own new creations.” (Pew Center’s Internet & American Life Project, 2005)

So, it is important that the technology used be engaging and effective.  Here is how the educational experience would unfold:

  • individual wiki pages to record their experiences (technology: Wikispaces: each student will need access to a internet-capable device)
  • live, interactive connection with the tour guide at the museum (technology: Elluminate; LCD projector to have a single large image is optional but not critical because each student will have an internet-capable device)
  • student presentations answering a driving question (technology: VoiceThread; each student will need access to a internet-capable device).

Technology Need #1: Project Wiki

The  project-wiki  will have to be in place prior to the start of this project.  Wikispaces is easy to use and flexible enough to handle what we need for this project.  The teacher will create a wiki just for this project and pages for each of the tour items she wants to be the focus of the lesson.  The students would then create their own page to record their work.  Here is a sample of what the project-wiki could look like:

At this point the school officials that hired me might say,

“No we don’t want you to focus on the student-activity, only on the virtual experience itself.”

My response:

“If the students sit back and watch someone talk at them, the learning experience will end with the presentation ends.”

And, since  officials are usually interested in Learning Theory, I would comment that, for this project the most effective learning theory would be the Constructivist Theory which assumes that transfer of information from teacher to student can be facilitated by involvement in authentic tasks anchored in meaningful contexts. (Ertmer & Newby, 1993)

I would then offer this argument regarding the educational value of blogs and wikis:

In the “Learning with Technology” section of English Journal (May 2003), Greg Weiler suggests that “[i]n some cases technology itself [such as blogs, wikis, and social networking tools] can be a motivating factor, allowing students to experience writing in a way that may be different from how they view traditional writing in school”. He goes on to note that “[m]any students are familiar with technologies such as Internet chat, e-mail, and bulletin boards. To these students, blogs [and other digital publishing technologies] present an entirely familiar interface, so that the technology becomes “‘transparent’ and writing is the focus; and new discussions can easily branch out from established topics” (as cited by Thinkfinity).

So, including a wiki in this lesson capitalizes on students’ familiarity with technology and allows students to easily publish their writing to be read by and quickly responded to by other students and extends the possibility for interaction beyond the classroom. (Returning to the theme of collaboration and creation mentioned in the Pew report referenced above.)

Technology Need #2: Elluminate

Elluminate is a web-conference tool which allows users to view a presentation, hear a speaker and participate in a live-chat printed on a side-panel.  It is an excellent tool for this lesson because it is multisensory (visual and audio) and provides a dramatized experience by involving the learner in the lesson.  This is what Simonson, Smaldino, Albright & Zvacek ( 2009) call an effective use of technology to convey information.  Here is what Elluminate looks like:

Technology Need #3: VoiceThread

When the presentation has ended the students will manipulate the lesson through use of VoiceThread (see sample below) in which a single theme-based image is surrounded by small face-shots of the students who will make a verbal presentation regarding that image.  The person viewing the VoiceThread will click on face-shot and hear a recording of that students’ comment on the image.

And now, let’s outline the learning scenario:

Day 1: Introduce lesson, educational expectations, technology tools

  • students are introduced to the idea of a virtual trip,
  • given clear guidance about what is expected of them (regarding behavior and grading assessment) this is when she tells them the Driving Question that the lesson will be created around,
  • students are told that the culmination of the learning experience will be to vote on which of the featured images best answers the driving question
  • the teacher runs a sample Elluminate program with the students conducting a live-chat with the teacher acting as moderator
  • a tutorial of VoiceThread is shown to the students (this interface will be easy for the teens to master, so there is no need to conduct a live demonstration)
  • students are given the Wikispaces url and told to log-on and look at the featured images and record their first impressions of how each image relates to the driving question

Day 2: Live Elluminate experience with the museum tour guide

  • teacher and tour guide are already on Elluminate when the students arrive in class
  • they participate in the tour
  • the students record their post-tour observations about the featured images and record their first impressions of how each image relates to the driving question

Day 3: Record VoiceThread entries

  • students write their VoiceThread pieces then record them
  • students begin listening to the VoiceThread entries of their peers and place their vote for “Best Image”

Teacher preparation needed:

  • create project wiki
  • become comfortable with the Elluminate interface and do any set-up needed for each class member to log-on to the presentation
  • contact the tour guide regarding booking the event and do a pre-event test on Elluminate with her
  • become comfortable with VoiceThread and do any set-up necessary for the class members to create individual entries

Final Note:

I mention building the lesson around a “driving question”.  This is a term used in Project Based Learning PBL lessons with the main logic being to create a question based on this list of guidelines provided by The Buck Institute for Education:

  • “higher-order” question (calls for evaluation or analysis)
  • authentic
  • significant
  • engaging
  • requires core subject knowledge to answer


Buck Institute for Education: http://www.bie.org/

Elluminate: http://www.elluminate.com//

Ertmer, P., & Newby, T. (1993). Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Constructivism: Comparing Critical Features from an Instructional Design Perspective. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 6(4), 50-71. 

Lenhart, A., & Madden, M. (2005, November). Teen Content Creators and Consumers | Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. Pew Center’s Internet & American Life Project. Govt Research. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2005/Teen-Content-Creators-and-Consumers.aspx

Owen, Trevor, ed. “Learning with Technology.” Retrieved from English Journal 92.5 (2003): 73-75.

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2009). Teaching and Learning at a Distance: Foundations of Distance Education (4th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.

Thinkfinity. (n.d.). Using Microblogging and Social Networking to Explore Characterization and Style – ReadWriteThink. Thinkfinity. Educational Foundation.  Retrieved from  http://www.readwritethink.org/classroom-resources/lesson-plans/using-microblogging-social-networking-1171.html

VoiceThread: http://voicethread.com/

Wikispaces: http://www.wikispaces.com/