December 17, 2014

“BlendEd - An educational model that combines traditional face-to-face/distance classroom methods with online delivery and participation; and an element of student control over time, place, path, and pace.”

As distance or remote learning has often been thought of as one method to extend learning opportunities to students beyond the four-walled classroom, this option has been limited to high schools students where there is no teacher for a subject area or students are getting a head start on their post- secondary plans by taking dual credit college classes. As we look at P-12 education, how then might BlendEd opportunities be extended to all classrooms? Virtual field trips or VFTs could be one answer. VFTs are not new options but they have been limited because of the following:

•  Video conferencing equipment is not available to most classrooms.
•  Teachers are not aware of VFT offerings and how they support their curriculum.
•  There are a limited number of Nebraska VFT providers.
•  Their may be a cost for participating in a VFT.
•  Teachers feel that testing and standards limits time for outside opportunities.

While all of these reasons are valid, we at ESU 10 as well as other ESUs are seeking ways to take down some of these obstacles.

Video Conferencing Equipment   In July of 2014, ESU 10 submitted a USDA Telemedicine grant that if funded would provide desktop application software allowing computer and smart technology to do video conferencing. Desktop application software should allow video conferencing to any classroom allowing any P-12 classroom the opportunity to enrich their curriculum through VFTs.

Awareness of Offerings  During our four month transition, I have informed our T&L team about the many VFT offerings. As the T&L team hosts workshops and goes out into classrooms, they become the ambassadors for sharing about these events.

Nebraska VFT Providers   Last week the ESU distance learning coordinators offered a one-day workshop to current and potential educational providers. Seventeen different providers attended included the MONA and the Archway from our area. The purpose for the day was to answer questions about how to create, market, and technically provide an educational lesson to Nebraska schools. As on site field trips are being limited by schools, these providers see this as an opportunity to share about their programs.

Cost for VFT   Through the annual distance learning dues that each school pays, ESU 10 pays for a limited number of VFTs. Examples are an autopsy class, storytelling presentation, and elementary science programs. Encouraging schools to set up their own VFT budget plus looking for other funding sources can reduce this limitation.

by John Stritt, Distance Learning Coordinator