By Armenda Boyer and Tom J. Bechman
Steve Doyle says the online classroom opens up a world of potential. Doyle, of Purdue University's Agricultural Communication Department, sees this potential first hand as project manager for zipTrips, a virtual field trip program.
The zipTrips program, created by Doyle's team five years ago, are live-feed field trips broadcast digitally from Purdue's campus into classrooms around the nation. These virtual field trips target middle school audiences and highlight various topics, such as animal anatomy, genetics, science and nutrition.
On average, zipTrips reaches students in 250 schools per year. Doyle says he is seeing an increase in demand for virtual learning programs like zipTrips.
"Schools aren't doing field trips like they used to," Doyle said. "The zipTrips program uses technology to bring Purdue into the classroom."
Doyle strives to make this distance-learning program as experiential as possible for students. During the digital field trip, participants can email questions to facilitators at Purdue and receive answers in real-time. Students also are encouraged to post comments and questions on HotSeat, an online question-and-answer chat platform.
In the future, Doyle hopes to build a greater student audience for zipTrips. It's a win-win for Purdue, according to Doyle: zipTrips expose students to science, technology and math learning, components of curriculum commonly referred to by educators as STEM – science, technology, engineering and math. All the while, the program, generates national exposure for the university.
STEM is more than a buzz phrase acronym in education circles today. It's becoming the mainstay around which educators are setting goals and focusing their efforts. Even vocational agriculture teachers in Indiana are being encouraged to design courses that fit with STEM goals.
At least one school district superintendent believes vocational funding will soon be tied more closely to helping students master various aspects of STEM techn0ology, not just on the basis of whether a class is vocational or not.
To learn more about Purdue zipTrips, visit the program website or contact Doyle at (765) 494-8400.
Armenda Boyer is in the Purdue University Ag Communications capstone class.