I recently moved to upstate New York, near Fort Ticonderoga, a historic gem which I am embarrassed to admit neither my children, nor I ever had a chance to learn about in history books or visit in person until a few months ago. Although, my family and I have been lucky enough to do some extensive traveling in and out of the United States, after visiting the Fort, I began to think about so many places, museums, and historic sites, I will never have the opportunity of visiting and learning about in person, whatever the logistical reasons may be.
However, I have realized interactive technology can make travel around the world possible for students of all ages. I started thinking about how web 2.0 encourages virtual travel when I learned about Thinglink.com, a tool that lets you upload images and make them interactive by adding links to any site be it music, video, text, or another image to enhance the original uploaded image. For example, view a picture of the Eiffel Tower on Thinglink with links to its sights, sounds and history. Thinglink.com got me thinking how traveling to exotic places, meeting new people and learning a new language or culture need no longer be hampered by logistics. Thinglink.com and other web 2.0 lets students become armchair travelers, well traveled curators of information from around the world.
Exploring the features and possibilities for learning with Thinglink.com, I also got to thinking:
How are museums and historic sites around the world using web 2.0 and social media to make their sites more accessible for a virtual experience?
How are museums and historic sites distributing their exhibits, history and instruction to reach visitors far beyond their physical walls?
How are educational programs in these organizations leveraging the power of free web 2.0 tools, social media and MOOCS to expand learning on a global scale for students of all ages and means?
How globally participatory and networked are the current program in museums and famous sites around the world?
Seeking answers for my questions, what I discovered available in terms of virtual tours of natural landmarks, historic sites and museums left me as amazed as if I were visiting the places themselves. First, let me tell you about the Google Art project and Google World Wonders Project. With Google Art, I didn't have to drive four hours to visit The Museum of Modern Art in New York city. I took an up, close and personal tour, observing every brushstroke of Van Gogh's Starry Night without ever leaving my home thanks to the same technology Google uses when we zoom in and out of Google Maps.
The Google Art Project works in conjunction with 17 museums worldwide which integrate web 2.0 tools and social media to increase virtual and physical visitor accessibility, engagement, connection and learning to create a global community. Virtual visitors can sign into their Google accounts to curate their favorite pieces from different galleries, post comments and then share via social media. How cool is that!
Second, Google World Wonders took my breath away! Using the Street View technology of Google Earth and Google Maps, aptly named Google World Wonders gives virtual visitors a 360 degree view of 132 historic natural and man made sites in 18 countries, including Stonehenge, Yosemite and Yellowstone! And, just when I thought it couldn't get better than this, the site also provides educators with free primary and secondary sources, presentations and lesson plans! Teaching history, geography or any subject really takes on a novel approach because students can now virtually visit world sites and not just imagine what they look like from looking at a 2-D picture in a book.
With MentorMob another free web 2.0 that lets you curate what you want to learn about, making virtual travel possible as well by creating or visiting playlists of favorite audio, video, text, or image links, I have created a playlist of Virtual Field Trips available for students.
Free web tools like Thinglink.com and MentorMob allow students to travel around the country, let's say from Crater Lake, Oregon to Mount Rushmore, or basically anywhere you can think of, seeing, hearing and experiencing the sites through audio, and video links that take people there virtually. Now, for the purposes of this post, I explored MentorMob and Thinglink, but imagine the myriad of free web 2.0 toolshistoric sites and museums can use to make learning accessible not just for K-12 schools in a particular region, but for K-12 schools around the world. Imagine the partnerships schools can form with these organizations to hold virtual field trips and chats using social media engaging in a learning experience that may not otherwise happen in the physical world due to costs. Through an endless array of interactive tech including, blogs, wikis, FaceBook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, ScoopIt, etc., museums and historic sites can extend their experience well before and after a physical or virtual visit through forums, message boards,image, video and audio sharing. The possibilities for engagement are never ending! Here is a playlist of museums that are already taking advantage of offering a virtual experience, and sites which offer videoconferencing for virtual field trips to other places of interest. Also be sure to visit NoodleTrip.com, an online directory of virtual field trips and distance learning opportunities. From an interactive tour of the White House, to the inside of the Sistine Chapel, the opportunities for virtual learning through virtual tours are limitless!
I also want to include information about an interesting article I read on MOOCS. Again, I think about the power of open source education, and its future use by historical sites like Fort Ticonderoga near my home, and thousands of other museums and historical sites around the world where the possibilities for teaching and learning for students of all ages are endless. What if museums and historic sites began offering their workshops via MOOCS?
How are historic places and museums beginning to use web 2.0 tools so that students don't have to just dream of ever visiting these notable sites?
Will there ever be a time when anyone can visit a noteworthy site and learn virtually regardless of logistical issues?
In an ideal world, no one should ever be denied the opportunity travel the world to learn because they don't have the means to do it; interactive technology opens up opportunities for virtual travel because we all deserve the experience to discover our shared human history. If museums, and historic sites exist to remind us of our past, present and future and inspire wonder about our existence...if we want to learn, evolve so we are more globally connected and tolerant, then we should all have access to experience these sites, whether physically or virtually. Interactive technology invites us to explore the world together!
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