Hawaii at their fingertips: Middle-school students take virtual field trips

PHOENIX – The virtual technology that’s changing industries from manufacturing to medicine is being incorporated into virtual field trips in a collaboration between Arizona State University and Kamehameha Schools in Hawaii.

“The intention of virtual field trips is to be able to get knowledge out and done in a very respectful and culturally appropriate way,” said Kaimana Barcarse, regional director of West Hawaii Kamehameha Schools.

The virtual trips, now used in Hawaii, eventually may be used in Arizona and other schools across the country, creators said.

The virtual field trips provide a 360-degree look at two sites, and students can explore high-resolution photos of the surrounding land. (Photo courtesy of Kamehameha Schools)

The partnership

The technological innovation of ASU and the cultural knowledge and access to these sites that Kamehameha schools have is the driving force behind the effort. The schools came together in 2016 in hopes of sharing the cultural and natural resources of Hawaii without interfering with sacred sites or freshwater ponds marked for preservation. Some of the sites shown are not open to the public.

Faculty and students at ASU worked with the design team and the digital teaching team at Kamehameha Schools to help them learn virtual technology. The field trips offer middle-school students an online tour of two sites, asking questions on what they learned along the way.

Kamehameha school representatives provided the cultural content and the experts in the field. They traveled to the sites to gather footage and information about the sites to put into the field trips and worked with ASU to develop the technology.

Ariel Anbar, director of the Center for Education Through Exploration at ASU, said the purpose of the partnership was to contribute to the teachings of science concepts, as well as Hawaiian culture.

One goal was to encourage students to visit sites in real life.

No permission slip required

The virtual field trips are geared toward middle-schoolers but can be used in classrooms around the world or by anyone wanting to learn about the cultural riches of Hawaii. Aside from the cool factor of the virtual field trips, they also incorporate Hawaiian language.

Students can virtually visit two places: Kahalu’u Ma Kai and Makalawena.

Students and teachers choose the site they want to explore on the virtual field trip. Students learn about why these sites are unique and culturally significant. (Screenshot courtesy Virtual Huakaʻi Resource Site)

Students are encouraged to engage, explore and connect with the sites. The virtual field trips urge students to apply their learning and care for their land. (Screenshot courtesy of Virtual Huakaʻi Resource Site)

Resource managers provide video interviews, adding to students' ability to gain in-depth knowledge on the virtual field trips. (Screenshot courtesy of Virtual Huakaʻi Resource Site)

Kahalu’u Ma Kai, with culturally and spiritually significant Hawaiian temples, is in a suburban area that the public can’t physically access because it’s on private property, Barcarse said.

Makalawena, a 12-acre wetland about a mile from the nearest major road, offers anchialine pools and marine life.

Diving into the ocean online

Students also can dive deeper into the Pacific Ocean to discover life below the surface through interactive 360-degree video, high-resolution photos and interviews with experts.

Barcarse hopes the virtual field trips inspire people to explore the land right outside their doorstep.

Anbar is certain virtual field trips will be implemented in classrooms some time in the future.

“I see no reason to think that in 10-20 years, students won’t routinely be doing all sorts of virtual explorations,” he said.

Video by Amanda Slee/Cronkite News.

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