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The Magic of Summertime: Virtual Exchanges and Travel

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    There’s always that one summer that changes you.

    Potent words that, for us teachers, ought to immediately evoke memories of beaches, mountains, exotic climes, tasty food, laughter, and adventure. And, of course, that’s what we hope our students can experience every time they go on break, no?

    But what if we could capture that feeling, bottle it like a summer lightning bug, poke a couple of holes into the jar’s lid, and offer it to our students when we return to the classroom? Check out these incredible resources and see if there’s a digital analog to each that you could easily translate into a telecollaborative function of your virtual exchange.

    (Virtual) Sightseeing

    You wake up early, pack into a car or a crowded bus, wait in line, and then gander at something that’s already been ogled by—literally—millions of people. That’s what lies at the heart of one kind of travel—better, tourism. But, if you’ve taken a trip alongside young people anytime recently, you may have noticed a bit of…disappointment associated with this tradition? Or perhaps the experience feels a bit perfunctory, or underwhelming?

    One of the features available to educators, now even more streamlined since the COVID years, captures the best parts of sightseeing and renders them right to your screen in up to 8K Ultra-High Definition. Dear teacher, have you met Virtual Field Trip? That’s right—thanks to a plethora of organizations and companies, so much of the world can now be accessed with mere curiosity and a good Wi-Fi connection! Consider these resources:

    Google Arts & Culture: Google Arts & Culture, a platform that collaborates with museums, cultural institutions, and heritage sites worldwide, provides virtual tours and exhibits. Through it, your students can explore high-res images of artworks, artifacts, and historical sites. They can even access interactive experiences. Take advantage of their partnerships with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Uffizi Gallery, and the Taj Mahal, and behold the great wonders of the world.

    National Geographic Field Trips: National Geographic offers virtual experiences that allow users to explore iconic destinations and natural wonders from the comfort of their homes. Through their website and interactive platforms, users can embark on virtual expeditions, view stunning photography, and learn about different cultures and environments. Basically, what you’d want to do with your students if you were Indiana Jones, with an infinite budget, impossibly comprehensive insurance, and a solid Hold Harmless Agreement.

    Open Heritage by CyArk: This one’s fun, and certainly new to me: CyArk. A nonprofit organization that digitally documents cultural heritage sites around the world, their Open Heritage initiative allows users to explore sites through detailed 3D models and virtual tours. Previously prohibitive, or inaccessible sites like the Ananda Ok Kyaung temple in Myanmar, or the Ancient City of Babylon in Iraq, now present themselves before you and your students via video, guided tour, and 3D Explorer functions.

    British Library: The British Library in London, like many other archives and repositories of knowledge, has digitized a significant portion of its collections, making them accessible online. Users can explore their vast archives of books, manuscripts, maps, and historical documents through their digital platforms. Imagine giving your pupils the opportunity to delve into centuries of knowledge and cultural artifacts without being physically present.

    And, with those students who like video games (yep—so basically, all of them!), make sure to share this bizarre, 8-bit, retro game library tour!

    The Louvre: I remember my family purchasing a CD-ROM (remember those??) with the Musee D’Orsay digitally recreated as a video game back in the 1990’s. Well, like that weird nostalgic trivia, and the gamification of the aforementioned British Library, the Louvre Museum in Paris has created its own virtual tour platform. It allows users to navigate through the museum’s galleries, view famous artworks, and access additional information about each piece. The virtual tour includes the iconic Louvre Pyramid and other architectural highlights found within its walls. And if it’s true that the average person only spends fifteen seconds looking at the Mona Lisa, at least you and your students don’t have to wait in line to do so!

    AirPano: This last one’s pretty cool. AirPano, a project put together by Russian photographers that specializes in capturing breathtaking aerial panoramas and 360-degree videos of various destinations worldwide, grants users the sensation of flying over famous landmarks, cities, and natural landscapes through their immersive virtual tours. Obviously, the Great Wall of China, the Grand Canyon, and the Pyramids of Giza, can all be viewed in this way; but I’d recommend checking out some of their more exotic treats, like the Northern Lights, as seen from Teriberka, the Karelian wetlands, or even the Seychelle Islands.


    So, these organizations and platforms, like us teachers, have leveraged technology to bring the wonders of the world to people’s fingertips. They offer their immersive experiences, high-resolution images, interactive content, and educational resources, allowing users to explore cultural heritage, iconic landmarks, and natural wonders from anywhere in the world.

    I’m sure, after salivating over some of these digital treats, you’re already mentally customizing these features and enthusiastically fitting them into your next virtual exchange. In a virtual exchange where you and your international friends discuss art or history, a quick follow-up to messages exchanged by visiting the works, sites, and galleries mentioned can fuel the dialogue with a lot of context and meaning for both parties.

    In addition, imagine a collaborative field trip where both participants in a virtual exchange “visit” a new place (again, through these great digital resources). What insights can be drawn from the interchange of two cultures sharing the “travel” experience that enrich and embellish the practice? Whether in real time, or asynchronously, two classes share their impressions, revelations, and aha moments with each other to find that their shared experience yields something greater than going it alone.

    Think, too, about what fun and educational benefits a virtual scavenger hunt might bring. What if each class “hides” location-specific information in a place, challenging their exchange partners to discover details of their choosing? For a language-learning activity, this could be fun and educational. The same could be done for a work, a monument, a statue, or really anything!

    Really, The Cloud’s the limit with these great resources. Explore them and start thinking about how you might utilize them in your classroom for your next virtual exchange! Now you can bring the magic of summertime travel into the fall, winter, and spring. Happy digital trails!