Virtual field trips can be an economically sound way to provide your class with learning experiences often not available locally, often learning from experts within the field that is being explored. Many are free and can either be prepackaged or customized. They are live interactive experiences and often not permitted to be recorded. There are many federally funded (free) virtual field trips that you can schedule via distance learning websites.
Skype is meant for smaller groups while video conferencing helps capture an entire room and camera can pan around classroom. The video quality tends to be better.

How to locate videoconferencing opportunities:
CILC is an extremely highly regarded database source to locate opportunities. Programs are rated.

Muse allows you to find partners to do collaborative projects – this is more network based allowing you to make professional connections to set up opportunities.

Magpi is a multi-site (4-6 schools assigned to same time) pre-programmed grouping of opportunities. Examples : work with Gerda Weisman Kline, women incarcerated in Afghanistan, Philadelphia one book project, civic exchanges constitution, pediatric cancer and fundraising campaign project. With Magpi, you cannot customize date and the students come up with projects/interact with peers (Class to class collaboration). All free of charge to members from Magpi (which PSD is a member through our IU).

e-Missions™ are simulated, problem-based, learning adventures delivered right into the classroom via distance learning technology. With the use of the Internet and videoconferencing equipment, these “live” scenarios are conducted in your classroom by a Flight Director at Mission Control from the Challenger Learning Center at Wheeling Jesuit University.

CAPspace Collaborations around the Planet

Here is an application to Skype with Educators: Are you an educator willing to share ideas through Skype? If you have the bandwidth, get on the bandwagon! If you have a skill or expertise that you would like to share with educators around the world, or visit classroom to classroom, please input your information here. Examples: authors, illustrators, career visits, experts on history, sciences, math, etc. Please be sure to fill in all applicable form fields to assist users with narrowing down the expertise by topic. Skype for Educators

this is a spreadsheet that lists the people willing to Skype with educators

Special notes: You may need to book multiple trips for each class of students (sometimes bulk rates are offered). There is often a limit to number of students participating (typically 35) Pam Newman at the IU is coming up with a checklist that educators can ask the provider prior to the session to ensure that it is a quality experience. A good content provider will have documents ready to help you prepare for the experience. Pam has also created a timeline leading up to an event which delineates what to do to prepare for eight weeks prior to the session. The invoice for a session usually is sent after session has occurred. Emergencies such as snow days happen and typically the school does not have to pay for a scheduled session which falls through for the reason of an emergency. When negotiating, ask the provided to cut a deal/discount (don’t be afraid to ask).

Funding options: Set up a meeting with building principal to determine which option below is the best option. Option #1: School district (or school) pays in full with grant money/PTA money, etc. Option #2: 50/50 school pays half of the cost and kids pay half. Option #3: parent donations towards in school field trips (typically up to $10 – school might subsidize for kids who cannot afford)

Equipment needed (contact Alexis Cuff in our district to rent our equipment): processor, camera, echo cancelling microphone

Best practices with setup: Test setup in classroom on the same computer that the conference will be set up through. Include all locations you are conferencing with in the test run. HINT: Ask district techs or IU to help with first test call. You will want to not only test audio and visual connections, but you will want to ensure that the content that they will push through (pdf documents, etc.) also come through successfully. Overhead lights – can cast shadows – don’t turn lights off but instead turn portion of lights in room off while others are on (if possible). Angle the camera away from screen where you are viewing the other location. Low lights – if they are too low, the camera cannot focus. Placing students in front of a window causes a black shadow – keep students away from window – pull shade to take natural light away. Keep any natural light in peripheral areas. Do not place the students in front of a dry erase board because of glare (put posters up if you cannot avoid). No red in backdrop – camera has trouble with red. Keep anyone balding away from florescent light. Solid shirts are good but should not be the same color as background because of floating head effect, limit jewelry, tone out background. Camera as close to screen display as possible facing audience. Camera right under screen if possible and raised to level of screen (so they see eye to eye vs. being looked down upon on either end), set camera presets on remote so that you don’t have to scroll around and make other side sick. Acoustics – sound absorption and insulation ideal – air conditioning turned off if possible – speaker away from microphone, microphone is blue for on and red for off, eliminate background noise, media center often has too much tertiary activity that will be picked up, ask office to keep announcements to a minimum and speak to administration about avoiding fire drills if possible during experience, integrate unit with p.a. system to take echo away, don’t shuffle large disc microphone around – have students walk up to it as it lays flat on table. Alert students (and remember) that microphones are sensitive – person can hear everything!!!! Remote – ensure spare batteries are on hand. Bridging service – back to back sessions – centralized bridge where school rents space and everyone calls in to bridge where everyone connects. To avoid paying bridge fees – leave 10 minutes in between sessions. Bridge might be necessary for school to school connections. Bridge charges are per port/per hour (not a set rate district pays per year)

Etiquette: Make sure that you don’t even whisper stuff you don’t want the other person to hear (tell students this). The microphone picks up everything. Use second camera for graphics and prepare for television viewing (Pam Newman at our IU has handouts with suggestions). Designate one person to be the facilitator (esp. important for multi-site conferencing.

Additional Resources on Videoconferencing from Bucks County Intermediate Unit #22

This page is moderated by Karen Hornberger.