The students at the Idaho Distance Education Academy realized distance really is not a barrier today when they ventured to space for the first time during a field trip.
This is the first time the school introduced a new type of learning called "virtual field trips". During these field trips, a classroom can hold a live, interactive discussion with a guest speaker located in any region of the world. If they are able to receive reception, then the students can virtually travel there.
"Within a 30-minute bus trip, there are only a certain number of opportunities in southeast Idaho," program director Jason Bransford explained. "But whenever you start accessing the whole world through these virtual field trips, the possibilities are unlimited."
Two cameras were mounted to opposing walls in the classroom, where guest speakers were able to get a full view of the students they are speaking with. The speaker is then projected onto a large screen in the front of the room. This sort of technology does not limit the discussion to maintain between two parties, but also allows other classrooms to join the field trip as well.
Not only did the students travel to the NASA space center in Texas today, but they also had a chance to travel back in time. They had a chance to visit The Royal Tyrrell Museum in Canada this morning, where they were able to learn about how paleontologists learn about prehistoric eras by studying dinosaur bones.
Bransford says organizations such as NASA hold these educational experiences for free, so virtual field trips are cost effective ways to help promote a fun learning environment. He also says this sort of program benefits learning in more ways than people would normally expect.
"Students normally wouldn't have the opportunity to go to the Terrell Museum in Canada, but today they did. And they probably never had the opportunity to learn about the Mars Rover expedition at the level they're going to, but today they will. These are the most opportunities students will never get unless we find them unique and innovative ways to provide them."
Bransford serves as a board member for the Idaho Education Network. His goal is to connect students around the state by implementing better technology in the classrooms. He says although other schools around the state are using this technology to communicate with other classrooms, this is the first school program in the state to implement this sort of technology to take virtual field trips as they did today.
The school plans on holding these field trips every month, and so far the idea dwelling in the batters box at the moment is for the students to travel to the moon and to travel back to the "old west" to learn about the train robbers during that era.