Capital idea breaks online learning records

Teachers and students are embracing virtual excursions during lockdown, writes Greg Miskelly.

Image: Almost real: Lila Robins enjoyed her virtual experience of Canberra's national institutions.

It’s a rite of passage parents will have experienced in their own school days – the Year 5 and 6 excursion to Canberra.

But with COVID-19 lockdowns in place in the national capital and NSW, many students in their final year of primary school looked set to miss the important milestone.

However, NSW Education’s Distance and Rural Technology (DART) Learning team stepped in to ensure Stage 3 students did not miss out, curating a week-long Visit Canberra program.

The virtual tour of nine national Canberra-based institutions last week set new records for online learning in NSW, with more than 750,000 students from across Australia logging in to a range of education-packed events that explored art, science, culture and the inner workings of democracy.

The DART Learning team, based in Dubbo, primarily supports regional and remote teachers and students.

But in recent weeks, a record number of teachers, parents and students have been registering for dozens of DART Learning’s different online excursions and events at its website.

Other highlights in the program have included a virtual Book Week celebration that included 10 events and 22 authors, with more than 130,000 registrations, and an Indigenous Literacy Day event, featuring performer Jessica Mauboy.

National Museum of Australia education manager Marissa Beard said the education team was delighted to connect with teachers and students last Monday during a special program that explored how museum objects could help unfold the stories of Australian history.

“The museum’s mission is to take the Australian story to students wherever they are in Australia – for those who can’t get to Canberra, we come to them,” Ms Beard said.

“It’s particularly important at this challenging time that students feel a connection to community and can see their own stories in the stories of Australian history.”

Ms Beard said the museum’s virtual excursion was designed to engage students and also support the curriculum being taught by Year 5 and 6 teachers.

“Our program includes telling stories, investigating history through handling objects and exploring our virtual Museum on Australia’s Defining Moments Digital Classroom. The feedback from students and teachers has been overwhelmingly positive – they have indicated that the novel experience of virtually visiting the museum has provided students with a fun new way to learn,” she said.

For students who missed out on the live event, a YouTube recording is available until the end of Term 3.

Teachers and educators said they were delighted by the range of online learning events, which offered digital doorways to places students have been unable to visit this term.

Beauty Point Public School principal Marion Walsh-Gay said 73 of her school’s Years 5 and 6 students took part in five events during the Virtual Week in Canberra.

These included tours of the National Museum, the National Gallery, the War Memorial, the Parliamentary Education Office and Questacon.

York Public School student Lila Robins said she had enjoyed the virtual experience.

“It felt like I was actually really there even though I couldn’t touch or feel anything,” she told Channel Seven News.

“The students really loved the sessions and while they would have loved to travel to Canberra and see many of the exhibits in person this was the next best option,” said Mrs Walsh-Gay .

“The expert presenters kept the kids engaged with online polls and check in questions and our parents have also remarked on the benefit of these educational opportunities.”

She highly recommended teachers and parents register for upcoming events, hosted by DART (Distance and Rural Technology) Learning in the coming weeks.

Because of unprecedented user demand for the program, DART Learning are offering a YouTube Live link to many of its current events, in addition to its regular Zoom platforms.

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