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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

When I Hear the Word “Virtual” I…

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: 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: — 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.


  1. What I have learned is that I cannot now teach without technology – and I mean that in a positve way. I have come to rely on all of the wonderful resources out there. On the other hand, I now work harder than I ever have before in terms of preparation. I spend hours and hours sorting through teaching opportunities on the web as well as educating myself via technological resources never before available. My classes seem to have speeded up.
    I feel a little like a television producer vying for 3 minutes on the air. This is a radical change that I have not seen discussed much. A number of years ago, Shoshanna Zuboff wrote a series in the HBR about how technology changes workflow. I see that happening with educators
    ( at least the better ones ) : more prep time and less class time. I really give homework but I always make comments about how this or that would make a great project for someone to work on independently. I do find that kids will ask for links to sites we have accessed which is always good to hear. Sometimes, I tell them it is a secret – they have to come to class to find out. I imagine that this change in workflow is on an upward line. This site saves me enormous amounts of time by referring me to great sites.

  2. Marc Aronson says:

    Interesting, I like that formula — more prep time but class zips by — reminds me in a way of preparing powerpoint slide shows when I visit schools or do Teacher Training. It takes some time, searching, to gather materials from hither and yon and weave them into a digital presentation, but then the actual event is just fun.

  3. Oh, I love the word, “immersion.” That’s exactly right–that’s what we want from books and that’s what we want from our “virtual” experiences. I am not an “early adopter” of technology so I enjoy watching braver people figure these things out for us!

  4. I really like some of the new videos made by the American Chemical Society. They use sound, movement, cartoon-like pictures, and humor to make the science videos captivating.
    This one is pretty funny.