The Virtue of Virtual Fieldtrips (LEARNZ) for students

kepler track

Barrie Matthews (LEARNZ Project/Technical Manager) facilitated this session (with Vicki Hagenaars – a classroom teacher extraordinaire with a focus on digital based learning – also sharing some of her experiences). The session  covered the benefits of Virtual Fieldtrips, looking at pedagogies, and encouraging participants to consider opportunities for, for example, students with SEN – due in part to the virtual nature of trip. (You can access a recording of the session here:; and the presentation show during the session here:

Previous to the session, Vicki wrote I have used “LEARNZ as a method for making my students aware they can be part of an online, collaborative learning environment.  They are always amazed that their questions are mirrored and answered during audioconfereces. The best learning engagement so far has been the one trip last year that we sent an ambassador on – huge buy in to the daily diaries and fully understanding the trip we sent our dolphin friend Poseidon on”.

Barrie started by providing a brief overview of LEARNZ, but giving an overview of a recent trip called Kids restore the Kepler. As well as students being involved, it also showed that individuals can take positive actions themselves. Barrie talked about how to choose fieldtrips, and Vicki gave some insight how she goes about choosing trips by, for example, having a look at the planned fieldtrips at the beginning of the year and taking note of what and when so that she can plan them into her. The fieldtrips are also supported by outside organisations.

The online space for LEARNZ has recently been re-designed and it’s much easier to use than it used to be to find your way around and use. The site has a range of features such as an integrated glossary. Vicki said that she uses the background pages about a week ahead to help start her learners thinking about the subject. She usually uses a buddy reading approach, followed by a lot of discussion and research around further ideas before the fieldtrip ‘kicks off’.

All of the fieldtrips are curriculum integrated, and even though the most obvious link are science, maths, environmental education, there have been other focii such as health, art and history. For example, a recent fieldtrip involved students working with Ngāi Tahu visiting sites around Timaru, making the pigments, history, contemporary use etc.

Vicki mentioned that the curriculum objectives are really useful, and helps her to engage students with relevant authentic activities and tasks. Many of the fieldtrips are aimed across sectors, and can be adapted for junior secondary.

Newsletters are quite useful because they provide deadlines, especially when ambassadors from a school have been sent.

The LEARNZ initiative is organic, and the team really appreciate input from the students and teachers who participate. Pete Sommerville (the LEANRZ project director who was also at the session) mentioned that “Without exception the evolution of LEARNZ has been as a result of excellent feedback from teachers”. One example shared by Pete was re the Kids restore the Kepler: ”The two versions of the text was useful.  The inclusion of te reo Māori was excellent ” (teacher feedback). A comment  from another teacher was ” I find the field trips as a great way of introducing vocab and scientific language to students. As well as teaching inquiry skills and science knowledge. I used the glossary section of the web site and selected words to use for word study prior to the field trip. We used the words for spelling activities, dictionary skills and quick writing activities. This is helpful for ESOL students that can have difficulty with vocab”.

Teachers can send a class mascot or toy, for $30, on a trip. Each of the mascots has their own page. It helps cement the relationship and gives a bit of buy in. Vicki was a bit unsure that Intermediate students would buy into having a mascot go on a trip, but she found that having a mascot involved, and reading their ambassador’s diary really helped engaged the students. Barrie also mentioned that secondary schools have had similar experiences. Anne K, in the chat said “Love the idea of a mascot travelling…. adds another dimension to the class involvement. [Brings] an almost face to face dimension tot he virtual trip”. Ambassadors are usually returned, although there was a recent fatality rafting the Tongariro.

Students can post questions on the forums for the experts on the fieldtrips. Using an landline phone, Skype, and the audio bridge, students are able to connect with folk on the field trips via audioconferences, and post their questions in advance. Vicki mentioned that the “kids get quite a buzz out of being involved”, and Pete said “Visual learning in a shared group is much less threatening than learning by yourself so there is a greater level of focus as you are supported”. Often there are students from a number of schools, geographically dispersed, all online and asking questions at the same time. There is no video with it, for many reasons, but Vicki advised that “When we are listening I tend to have a print out of the questions for the students to make notes on.  Gives them focus”. One teacher commented “Sometimes our computers don’t oblige and that can be frustrating for the kids and me – that’s a school issue but does affect how we use the website. But this won’t put me off continuing to use LEARNZ as for the children who take part, it is the audio conference that stays with them. And for me especially  it is the way Andrew relates to the children – his commitment and warmth come through in all his interactions, even though he has done these trips before he always makes them fresh and exciting”.

The videos are one of the biggest learning opportunities  and a couple of iterations later the videos are being put on to Vimeo, and are being accessed by mobile devices, as well as being downloaded to local machines or networks to be watched. Examples of videos can be accessed at: (Usr: webinar1Pwd: webinar1); and In reference to the videos and engaging the students, feedback has included “they said they did no real work watching the videos and completing the questions independently, however the level of understanding was higher than is typically observed from text based resources”.

Pete explained that “during field trips we aim to develop meaningful relationships between experts/students, LEARNZ Teacher/class teacher, LEARNZ Teacher/students and the mutiple media helps this getting to know”. Merryn, in the chat also commented that “It’s amazing how much thought has gone into every aspect of this – so many ingredients, active and reflective”.

Kids are challenged to ‘do’ something, and to take it to the next level. Schools have been inspired to create their own trips, and Pete shared that “Ah yes we do hear of schools organising their own trips – Stuart Cook from Methven School has a great story to tell about that”.

Barrie shared that if you are interested in signing up for any of the fieldtrips you can:

This was an incredibly comprehensive session, which clearly showed the development of a wonderful resource that has been developed over the last 11 years. Anna K commented that this was an “awesome opportunity to see the richness of LEARNZ – can’t believe I have never been involved with this wonderful programme!”


  • The path‘ Found on
  • Returning birdsong to a Great Walk; LEARNZ


About ictenhancedlearningandteaching

I am a director and consultant at Ethos Consultancy NZ ( I have a keen interest in all aspects of ICT Enhanced Learning and Teaching (ICTELT) where the focus lies on ways of scaffolding and empowering learners. In particular, I am interested in the way that creative, blended approached to Academic Professional Development can create trust, rapport and encourage reflective practice. As such, ICTELT is approached from facilitation, design, evaluation and assessment as opposed to the tools and what they can offer. I am a strong advocate of the potential of Web 2.0 to empower learners from all walks of life and cultures, especially after my experiences working for 6 years in the Middle East. In particular, I am interested how ePortfolios can be used in the VET sector (especially where Literacy and Language challenges are faced), in Recognition of Prior Learning, and in authentic, applied assessment. I have been involved with designing and developing ICTELT approaches and programmes for ten years. Following research informed approaches and design, I apply a qualitative, iterative process to evaluate the effectiveness of interventions, programmes and tools, encouraging learners' voices and input from all stakeholders.
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