Mar 19 2014

The National Park Service Tackles Distance Learning

Free media platforms offer a cost-effective way to engage students and promote our national parks.

Online learning is a movement perfectly suited to budget-strapped school districts and elite universities alike. They aren’t the only ones taking advantage of the Internet to engage students and award certificates — and market themselves in the process.

The National Park Service (NPS) is using YouTube, Facebook, Flickr and other frees online platforms to create engaging learning tools for students. These “electronic field trips” allow students to learn about our national parks at no cost to schools. The new media platforms enable the NPS to save on production costs while providing content on websites that students are already familiar with:

More than 100 park distance learning programs (often called electronic field trips) use new and traditional broadcast media to bring students to the parks for curriculum-based exploration and discovery. Most field trips include a live or recorded video-based experience accompanied by a suite of new and social media (on-line activities, chat rooms, blogs, Facebook pages, podcasts or Flicker libraries). These expanding opportunities give teachers and students a chance to explore the story in depth, follow their own leads and extend the experience. Like actual field trips, distance learning opportunities such as Electronic Field Trips are park-based and aligned with state or national core curriculum standards and include pre and post-visit activities. Unlike actual field trips, these tours often take students “behind the velvet ropes” to see and experience the park.

The popular WebRangers program is designed to teach children about the history, important figures, wildlife, nature and upkeep of national parks. The course uses gamification so students “can customize their Ranger Station, earn rewards, and play learning activities.” Here is a look at some of the other programs the NPS offers:

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site offers live webcasts to classrooms from the underground launch-control center at Delta-01. Students learn about the Minuteman Missile’s role in helping to keep the peace for three decades, during which the missle served as both a threat and a deterrent.

Biscayne National Park has a variety of programs for students who can visit the park as well as for those who may never get a chance to see the park in person. The park is constantly exploring ways to bring students into the resource — under the surface — to learn more. Skype with a Ranger: At Biscayne National Park, students or classes with questions can set up a time to Skype with a park ranger or park scientist.

Homestead National Monument of America has curriculums for students in grades K–12 and continues to explore more immersive virtual field trips to the park. Park staff use the web to push content to teachers using the park’s K–12 flash drives.

Yosemite National Park’s Nature Notes is an impressive presence on YouTube, with over 3 million views and a dedicated following. The park uses its YouTube channel to show videos about nature, history, safety and events.

Learn more about the National Park Service’s distance-education programs on the Innovative Education Technology in Parks page.

<p>Credit: National Park Service</p>