Saturday, August 28, 2021

Virtual Travel Opportunities Abound


I recently had emergency surgery, with a week-plus of enforced rest.  The surgery cut short a camping trip, so I was feeling mighty travel-deprived.  With all that time on my hands, I got to searching the web for virtual travel opportunities – films and websites that could help me be an armchair traveler without using a single core muscle.  I found so much …


First, I googled “best travel movies” and found lots of lists.  Based on recommendations from my favorite list, I binge-watched Under the Tuscan Sun and A Good Year in one evening.  Both movies help you imagine that you’re in the grand rural geographies in Italy and France where they take place.


Then I moved on to virtual travelogues and found that so much has been released to the public or created during the past 1.5 years of Covid.  I’ll just highlight a few for you that combine wanderlust with educational value.


Flyover Zone takes you on 360-degree 3D tours of some of the world’s great cultural heritage sites.  Commentary is provided by leading historical and archaeological experts.  Where sites remain in a damaged condition, the tour may include digital restoration, so you can imagine what it might have looked like at its best.  For now the tours include Baalbek Roman temples,  Hadrian’s villa, chariot racing, and Rome reborn.  Tours of Athens reborn, great monuments and Egypt reborn are under development.  You’ll have to look at their website to see which tours are free.


Just as you can find just about anything available for sale on Amazon’s virtual marketplace, you can use the beta version of Amazon Explore to virtually visit a dizzying number of tourist destinations.  Ranging in cost from $10 to under $100, the virtual travel experiences are organized by world region (North America, Central America, South America, Europe, Australia, Asia).  The focus of the virtual trips is also broad, ranging from a virtual cocktail class to learn how to make the Peruvian drink pisco to shopping (live) for customizable traditional Tuscan textiles to a virtual tour of Slovenia’s capitol (Lubljana) through romantic stories to an exploration of miniature orchids in Costa Rica.


Unify Cosmos promises that you’ll be listening to “the most relaxing sounds in the world.”  You begin the adventure by selecting a place in the world from their list of options.   I picked Alghero, Sardinia.  After clicking on the arrow, I listened to wonderful ocean waves as they lapped on the beautiful beach displayed on my screen.


Finally, Google Arts & Culture offers interactive opportunities to engage with art throughout the world.  By downloading experience-specific apps on your device, you can play with art through offerings such as “Which artwork looks like you?,” “Make music with the blobs in London,” or “Turn yourself into Van Gogh.”  You can also explore major museums like the Grand Palais in Paris, the Tate Britain in London, or the Tokyo National Museum in Tokyo.


These virtual travel opportunities are not likely to disappear when Covid does (when will that be?!).  Meaning that we all – adults and children alike – will be able to appreciate some of the wonders of traveling to exotic places from our armchairs for years to come.  If you combine that with ethnic take-out or adventurous cooking, and virtual shopping, maybe it’s almost as good as being there?

Sunday, August 15, 2021


Covid may have been the tipping point for online K-12 education


Before Covid, there were plenty of families who “home-schooled” their K-12 children via online courses.  One of my son’s friends did all four years of high school on a boat sailing around the world with his parents.  Many religious families chose to exert greater control over curriculum content by teaching their children themselves, often using online curricula to do so.  Families living in remote areas (think ranches in the western US or in the outback of Australia) had few other choices than what was called “correspondence courses” pre-internet.


With the significant reliance on virtual schooling during Covid, a far greater part of the general population has been exposed to the opportunities online learning can offer.  As a result, many more families want to have permanent online opportunities available, and some school districts are accommodating that interest. 

A recent CNN article gives a good analysis of why this trend is occurring, along with some examples of options for online K-12 education available in Colorado.  For some families, the interest in online options is rooted in continued concern about Covid exposure risk.  Others have found that online education meets their child’s emotional needs and learning style better than in-class formats.  The appeal of virtual school, or hybrid online school with in-person extracurricular activities, will only grow as educators refine their curricula and teaching methods to enhance the learning via online methods.


Some jurisdictions are creating new online schools to meet the need.  The CNN article describes the Spark Online Academy, a K-8 virtual school currently available in school district 11, but shortly opening up to any student living in Colorado.  Other jurisdictions are deciding to continue offering an online option as an alternative for children who don’t want to restart in-person classes.  My home town is offering Salt Lake Virtual Elementary for K-6 students.  While this appears to be a temporary offering while Covid remains a threat, it may become permanent if demand continues, since the infrastructure will already be in place.


The CNN article emphasizes that online learning is not ideal for every K-12 student.  But, thanks to our experiences over the past 18 months with Covid restrictions, many students will now have a real choice between in-person and virtual learning … depending on which option suits their situation best.

Written by Michele Straube