I recently received an email that shared some new digital resources, including virtual classroom trips. That sounded great, until I tried them out. Here is one, a Trip to the Moon created by NASA: http://www.nasa.gov/mov/194269main_038_a_day_aboard_space_shuttle.mov While I am eager to show it to my about to be 6 Year old, who will like the floating water and upside down teeth brushing, the film itself reminded me of the film strips and educational films I used to see when I was in elementary school — and those seemed old fashioned to me then. The same post including the Virtual Tour offered by the Louvre Museum: http://www.louvre.fr/llv/musee/visite_virtuelle.jsp?bmLocale=en — a thrilling prospect because of the many fascinating paintings and archaeological treatures that are housed there. But again this was a big disappointment — a slide show of photos of displays. My frustration with these two virtual experiences highlighted to me what I want from a digital experience — and what is still hard to create.
I want an immersive experience. If the digital offers me post cards it becomes wallpaper. It is flat — I see files, I am offered links, downloads, in effect I am getting a folder holding many sheets of paper — except the paper is on screen and I have to go to the trouble of printing it if I want to hold it. I suspect that this wallpaper effect, these ever increasing piles of flat paper, that causes students and teachers to get frustrated. I hear tell that there are great resources for teachers on the net that they do not use — the resources are both overwhelming and disappointing — just so many more folders holding just much more paper.
When I hear the word “virtual” I immediately think “experiential” — I want the website to take me into a space, whether through sound, or gaming, or interactive features, or clever use of art, that makes me feel I am somewhere else. That is the real challenge of educational websites — to offer not reams of flat paper, but rather new experiences. After all, what does a book do? When you enter its pages it does offer you immersion — in the world the author evokes and illustrated — you are between covers in a different space. For now I am seeing too many file cabinets on the web and not enough journeys.