Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Selecting Distance Learning Technologies

A high school history teacher, located on the west coast of the United States, wants to showcase to her students new exhibits being held at two prominent New York City museums. The teacher wants her students to take a "tour" of the museums and be able to interact with the museum curators, as well as see the art work on display. Afterward, the teacher would like to choose two pieces of artwork from each exhibit and have the students participate in a group critique of the individual work of art. As a novice of distance learning and distance learning technologies, the teacher turned to the school district’s instructional designer for assistance. In the role of the instructional designer, what distance learning technologies would you suggest the teacher use to provide the best learning experience for her students?

When I first considered this scenario, I got excited about the highly technical prospects of creating a virtual museum in Second Life or commissioning some virtual tour software to create a custom museum tour matched by no other. Seriously, Second Life has a virtual underwater Jules Verne museum that is rumored to be amazing. Also, take a look at this interactive museum tour that was built using Virtual Tour Engine:

Click here for interactive version
I have these technically robust ideas as a knee jerk reaction, and it is probably because I have been in the corporate software business for many years. There is nothing wrong with an elaborate technical imagination, but solution ideas such as Second Life or Virtual Tour Engine may not be well suited for a high school class project. There would be too many “what ifs”, a steep learning and design curve, and high costs associated with something of this magnitude.

The first logical step would be to make sure that the New York museums did not already a virtual tour available to structure a possible solution around. For discussion sake, let’s assume that there is no museum provided solution. Continuing my search for an affordable, easy to implement, yet still exciting solution for this scenario, I stumbled upon something quite amazing in its own right. Dr. Christy Keeler is a pedagogy scholar and educational consultant. Her recent publications are in the fields of educational technology, instructional design, and social studies education. Dr. Keeler is also a PowerPoint genius that introduced the concept of virtual museums built entirely in PowerPoint. She offers examples and templates of virtual museums, and instructions (including videos) that demonstrate how to create virtual museums from scratch or using a template (Keeler). Take a look at this to get an idea of what I am talking about: 

Photo Credit

More examples here

Dr. Keeler’s virtual museum tool would be the basic foundation of my suggested solution. Obviously we would have to seek assistance from the museum in getting digital images of the artifacts within each exhibit. There may be the singular expense of a trip to New York to meet with the curator, take some digital images and, maybe, video footage to collect the content for the project. If video footage of the curator could not be obtained, one could arrange several video Skype sessions with the curator over the course of the project. An alternative method of interaction with the curator would be to set up a discussion Wiki that the curator would moderate. The next part of the solution would be to host the virtual museum PowerPoint files on a school intranet, so that students could review and study at their own pace. This type of self study places emphasis on independence (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012).  This would be ideal for high school age students.  If this option is not available, then we could use a free document hosting site like Google Docs. Many schools and faculty have to deal with outdated computers, minimal software options, and little funding (Simonson, et al. 2012). All of these proposed solutions are free, with a lower learning curve and require minimal software to build and host.

The proposed solution may not be as impressive as an underwater virtual museum, but with a lot of thoughtful planning and creativity, it can be just as exciting.

Keeler, C. [Web log message]. Retrieved from

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance, foundations of distance education. (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

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