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As technology heralds all-inclusive school field trips


Establishing live, interactive links between pupils on field trips and those in the classroom is a set of tools that frees teachers from the challenge of engaging all pupils on external field trips.

Organising field trips may sometimes be difficult because the venue limits the total number of visitors or parents may simply be unable to afford the additional costs involved. Therefore the IST programme-funded RAFT project set out to demonstrate the educational benefits of external field trips for classroom pupils, in order to prompt best practice for such activities and to promote a market for technical products. The project also aimed to push the standards envelope on current learning materials, and to establish new forms of pupil collaboration using real-time video conferencing and audio communication in a real-world context.

Describing how RAFT tools can help teachers promote pupil inclusion into external visits project coordinator Marcus Specht says: “Our main achievement was to establish the methodology and technologies that would enable teachers to organise field trips that would not have been possible before.”

“If we organise a visit to the control tower at Cologne/Bonn airport, for example, the maximum number of visitors allowed in a group is just five,” he adds. “It is difficult for a teacher to promote such a trip, knowing that out of a class of say thirty pupils, twenty-five will have to stay in the classroom.”

The RAFT team’s approach to this problem was to establish a structure for each visit in which all the pupils had precisely-defined roles. Some members of the field team were assigned roles as data gatherers for example; their task was to take measurements and audio or video recordings at the site of the visit, in some cases as directed live by members of the base team back in the classroom. Other field group members would be reporters – their task was to interview the people conducting the visit and obtain answers to key questions, again in some cases as directed live by the team back at base.

Each visit would be prepared beforehand by the base team in the classroom, which would define the tasks to be carried out, the data to be gathered and the questions to be answered, who would then monitor the field team in action via live audio and video links. These base team members also had tightly-defined roles, visit director for example, or team researcher.

The technology underpinning this team structure was deliberately kept as simple as possible for the classroom end of the link, says Specht. “It’s no good planning an elaborate technical infrastructure when the school involved might have only a single DSL line,” he says. “Full video conferencing is impractical in such situations. So we designed the RAFT tools to be totally Web-based at the classroom end, and accessible via a normal Web browser.”

In practice, he notes, for trips to locations within German cities the field team could often rely on the resources of a full wireless LAN for communications. When they were out in the wilds, he says, then they typically used 3G phones for audio and video communication.

The data being fed back to the classroom could be fully annotated by members of the field team, says Specht, and these annotations were stored along with all the other data recorded during a visit. In fact a key concern for the RAFT team was to facilitate the re-use of field trip data by subsequent pupil groups, perhaps the next group of pupils in the following year. They therefore developed a management system to provide archiving facilities and easy access to the stored field data, either for classes or individual students.

RAFT finishes in 2005, and the participants are already discussing with national schools or teaching associations the possibilities of listing the RAFT set of tools on their respective Web portals. They are also planning a major end-of-project event, “probably in a circus marquee either in Cologne or Bonn” says Specht, to which they will invite schools representatives and the educational media, for discussions on how to facilitate training in the use of RAFT tools.

Tara Morris | alfa
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