(Virtual) Field Trips

It’s summer, and I’ve got some serious get-out-of-Dodge wishes. In particular, this being summer in Texas, I’m dreaming of Alaska, Antarctica, Nunavut, etc. Time for a field trip!

In all seriousness, what about field trips with your students? Some courses really make it work, but, for most courses, the logistics and the cost are overwhelming.

Enter virtual field trips. Your students get the educational content, you get to skip the organizational stresses. Plus, students can “revisit” the destination as often as needed, rather than relying on their notes or photos. Of course, there are few exact substitutes for the real thing, but, all things considered, the resources below provide some intriguing options.

You can use a virtual field trip to help students visualize names and places from course content. You can also use the virtual field trip portals for more critical inquiry: why these works, why this perspective, and why introduce the content in this manner? A virtual field trip holds a lot of promise as an attention-grabber at the start of a unit or as a culminating exercise.

We’ve written about the Google Art Project in an earlier post, but the site has had a redesign. It’s now easier to search the ever-expanding collection and to create your own galleries from the available works.

If archaeology is more your thing, here is an online 3-D interactive view of the pyramids in Giza. Likewise, Traditions of the Sun offers views of ancient Mesoamerican observatories.

Historypin is like a crowd-sourced field trip. Rather than a slick, uniform view of a place, this site lets users upload their own photos and pin the location of the photo to a searchable map (in some cases, you’ll really need to zoom in close to get the variety of photos to display). The images have dates attached to them, so you can travel back in time, too. A glance at my hometown reveals pictures from 1922 through 2012. In addition, there are also some Historypin thematic and geographical special collections.

Of course, there’s always Google Earth, for a walk / swim / climb around some of the world’s most compelling locations and landforms. Google Earth also has a partnership with 360Cities, a site focusing on interactive panoramic images of urban areas.

Last, if you happen to be taking an in-person field trip or leading a study abroad course, here are some options for how your students can use digital tools to document their field experiences.

What destinations will your courses explore this summer?

Case Studies

Case studies are a great way for your students to review material, practice authentic skills, and synthesize course content. A cleverly written (or ripped from the headlines) case study also provides a valuable active learning opportunity. You can use case studies to introduce a topic or to review material.

Depending on your format, content, and the complexity of the case study, students can work through case studies in a class discussion, a homework assignment, or group assignment. Case studies don’t have to take a lot of class time, although many instructors feel that some element of (class or group) discussion greatly enhances the case study learning experience.

Carefully structured student interaction ideally shifts student focus from racing to find the one right answer to instead reveling in the process of data analysis, applying context-specific knowledge, and weighing the relative importance of key factors. After all, these latter behaviors represent the transferable skills from this exercise. The case study solution is only a best outcome for one single scenario; the process of applying course content while in problem-solving mode is the gift your students will hopefully share with others down the road.

In planning for student interaction around a case study, this list of insights about the case study discussion process from a professor of strategic management at Harvard might be helpful. Likewise, this piece discusses how individuals might take on different roles in the decision-making process, a process that more closely mimics how many organizations make decisions. If you choose to employ the roles of leader, decision-maker, and advisers, a random assignment of roles is probably most efficient. My two favorite in-person ways to randomly assign roles are via playing cards (for example, the student who draws the ace is the leader, the student who draws the king is the decision-maker; and the rest of the students with numbered cards form the advisory panel) and picking numbers (student who has selected the highest number is the leader, the student with the next-highest number becomes the decision-maker, and all other students are advisers). For online courses, you might use a random number generator and post the results for your students to see.

In closing, I also love to throw a cognitive in wrench in things: once students have worked out what the best course of actions is for a scenario with x,y, and z; I then ask about w, x, and y (or a,b, and z). Does that change the outcome? If so, why? This wrap-up piece is great fodder for a class discussion or a written reflection on the activity.

Teaching with Simulations and Serious Games

Check out this list of online educational simulations / serious games. Grouped by topic, you can find simulations related to biology, leadership, politics, healthcare, city management, ethics, history, and marketing, just to name a few available topics. Summary information about each simulation is provided. While some entries link directly to the simulation, others contain a link to the developer charging educational licensing or individual user fees.

How might you use a simulation or serious game with your students? An activity like this is a wonderful way to start the course or introduce a specific unit, grabbing student attention and familiarizing them with the content. Likewise, you could use a simulation as a concluding activity, letting students demonstrate their knowledge by playing. Students can then reflect on the game itself and how well it captured reality. In a face-to-face class, you can use the classroom computer to play together as a class – or use student devices to have groups play together. Alternately, and for online courses, you can have students play on their own and then share their reactions in a discussion or short writing assignment.

Is the simulation at the right level for your students? Note that in the example use  scenarios described above, the level isn’t as important as what students do with the knowledge: get interested, evaluate, problematize, etc. Of course, the simulation can’t be impossibly simple or hopelessly intricate, but, barring those conditions, there is still a lot of learning to be done from a simulation that isn’t matched exactly to the level of the course.

Do you have an online simulation that works well with your students? What about a classroom-based simulation? Personally, I’m a big fan of teaching the tragedy of the commons with a classroom-based simulation. Please share your favorite simulations / serious games in the comments!

Bloom’s Taxonomy in the Smartphone and Tablet Era

Bloom’s Taxonomy, the prism through which many of us have been taught to evaluate learning outcomes, is changing. The general trend is to focus more applications of knowledge, rather than knowledge for its own sake. In the updated version, the act of remembering replaces “knowledge” at the base of the triangle. Progressively more intense higher-order thinking skills are enumerated moving upward toward the peak of the triangle, culminating with learners creating knowledge. The act of synthesis, absent in the revised taxonomy, likely has always found its way into the work of analysis, evaluation, and creation.

Of course, Bloom’s taxonomy is not the only way to graphically represent the cognitive processes associated with learning. Other revisions have represented the taxonomy as a series of interlocking gears, a blooming rose (hah!), and a feathered bird – just to name a few. Notably, Rex Heer at Iowa State’s Center for Excellence in Teaching has created a nice flash model of the way that the cognitive processes mesh with different levels of knowledge that learners will need to complete the task. It’s definitely worth clicking on the link in the previous sentence and then playing a little with the interactive graphic.

Recently, I’ve run across a few revisions of Bloom’s taxonomy focusing just on the apps available for tablets and smartphones. Check out the Padogogy Wheel:

I love the multitude of apps identified above – what better way to find something new that just might work for you? However, if you’re looking for something a little cleaner, here’s a nice distillation:

Of course, not all the apps are appropriate for your content, level, or course goals. You might use the above information to guide students when helping them select research, presentation, or study tools. If you’re currently using – or contemplating using – one of the apps identified above, this should give you a sense of the cognitive range of the app. Last, if you’re not yet sure how smartphones and tablets fit into the classroom and individual learning processes, hopefully these graphics have provided some food for thought.

If you’re looking for still more apps, the Koehler Center has a list of both discipline-specific and general study, writing, and document management apps. In addition, some of the web 2.0 tools identified on our website also have their own apps.

Apps on tablets and smartphones are more than just cool tools. In particular, some apps make it very easy for students to transition from sophisticated curators of knowledge of innovative creators of knowledge – that is, to ascend to the highest level in the revised Bloom’s taxonomy.

Do you have an app you love to use with your students? What impact does this app have on student learning? Alternately, is there an app that would benefit your students’ learning that you’d love to create?