Across many curriculum areas, learners will go on field trips. Sometimes they will be to inhospitable environments such as forests, mountains, fjords or Croydon. Generally though they will be to places a little more local and urban.
Travel and Tourism students for example, may visit London to see the tourist attractions. Sports Studies could visit the site of the Olympics in 2012. Business Studies may visit a factory or a retail outlet. When I was teaching Business we visited such diverse places as an aircraft factory, a dockside undergoing urban regeneration, the Clothes Show Live, Amsterdam and Bruges, Museums and Croydon.
There were many reasons for going on field trips, a core one was to base an assignment or assessment task around the field trip. Looking at my own examples, we went to the Clothes Show Live to look at marketing and advertising. The visit to Europe was to look at the impact of cultural differences on business in the European Union. The aircraft factory was looking at how technology and changes in technology impacted on businesses processes, job roles and manufacturing.
So where does the VLE come into all this?
Well the VLE can be the place from which the task is centered and alongside the assignment brief you could place all the other information and links that learners could use for the field trip.
You do need to consider if you are expecting learners to access the VLE whilst actually on the field trip. In this case you will need to consider what your expectations are for learners in relation to the use of the VLE, and to ensure that the learner are aware of those expectations.
You will need to consider connectivity for those that will be accessing the VLE. You will need to be aware of the sort of devices that the learners will be using.
So if your learners are using the iPod touch to access the VLE, is there free wifi somewhere in the vicinity of the field trip? If they are using the iPhone or iPad, make sure you don’t have any links to Flash video or activities. If they are going to be using laptops or netbooks, where can they use them sitting down? Are there cafés or other places where they could go?
Once the logisitics of remote access to the VLE is sorted, you can then make decisions about how you are going to support the task from the VLE in the field.
Mobile connections are much slower than connections in college, so it’s vital that any resources are made to be downloaded as quickly as possible.
Simple things can be done to enable that, such as rather than using Word files (which can be quite large) ensure that you post text to the VLE (copy and paste it in) to a “label”, “discussion forum” or “web page”. That way learners can immediately access the text without needing to download a large file first. Often mobile devices are better at rendering text on webpages for smalller screens than trying to render A4 Word documents. Avoid using Powerpoint for similar reasons and as already stated unless you know that the devices are capable of using Flash, avoid Flash based content and video.
Video is possible over the mobile web, but unless you have a good connection, it is to be avoided. Audio however will download fine on even a poor 3G or GPRS connection and can be a viable alternative to video. Make sure the audio files are not too big, as some mobile phone providers have file size limits on what can be downloaded.
So what if remote access is not available, say you’re up a mountain or in Croydon?
Well the VLE could be the focus of the field trip after the event. A place to collate the thoughts, blog entries, images, video, audio from the field trip. A way of sharing resources and media easily and effectively. This will then enable any task that was started off on the field trip to be finished and finalised with all the resources that the group collected.
Field trips are a great way of making learning real for many students, the VLE can be used to support any field trip tasks and for post-trip activities too.