Selecting Distance Learning Technologies: Interactive Tours



A high school history teacher, located on the west coast of the United States, wants to showcase to her students new exhibits being held at two prominent New York City museums. The teacher wants her students to take a “tour” of the museums and be able to interact with the museum curators, as well as see the art work on display.  Afterward, the teacher would like to choose two pieces of artwork from each exhibit and have the students participate in a group critique of the individual work of art. As a novice of distance learning and distance learning technologies, the teacher turned to the school district’s instructional designer for assistance. In the role of the instructional designer, what distance learning technologies would you suggest the teacher use to provide the best learning experience for her students?

Distance Learning Possibilities:

The first suggestion as an Instructional Designer is to analyze the situation and/or complete a needs assessment.  This may sound odd for such a seemingly simple dilemma, but without asking pertinent questions the solution may not fit the problem.  By determining the learning objectives and what the learners’ needs will be, it is easier to determine which distance technology is most beneficial.  There are many distance technologies to choose from including television, radio, correspondence, email, audio, video/audio conferencing, and others (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2009).  In this situation, the teacher wants the students to be able to visually tour the museum, which requires a technology that will allow visuals.  Further, the teacher is desirous of the students being able to speak with one of the curators, which requires an audio technology.  These two aforementioned elements are indicative of the need for an audio/video conferencing system.  In addition, the teacher also wants to be able to pick a couple of pieces from each exhibit to have the students discuss.  This could be done face-to-face as long as the class has downloaded and/or acquired graphic images from the exhibits, and/or with a distance technology such as a discussion board or blogging.

Once it is determined that audio/video conferencing technology would be best, there are more questions to ask.  For instance, does the teacher have specific museums in mind?  If so, which museums?  Do those museums offer online exhibits for viewing?  Are the museums “wired” for audio/video conferencing?

In fact, a great many popular museums are maintaining online visual exhibits for patrons at a distance.  Further, there may actually be several universities in the area of the museums that have Art History Departments with collaborative relationships already negotiated with a variety of museums.  Further, as two-way video conferencing has become much more affordable technology via social sites such as Skype, it is entirely possible for this teacher to fulfill all of her goals for the students learning plan.

It would be my suggestion that the teacher first determine if the art exhibits are available online.  If they are, then it is simply a matter of arranging for one or two of the curators to be available for an online video/audio interview with the students.  This would especially beneficial if the students are able to preview “tour” the exhibits ahead of time, formulate some relevant questions, and then be prepared for speaking with the curator(s).

If the art exhibits are not immediately available online then there are a few alternate suggestions.  First, the teacher could attempt to arrange a quid pro quo situation with one of the local schools in New York.  In exchange for their students participating in a video/conferencing “tour” in New York, the students on the west coast could do the same for them using a west coast museum of interest.  Then, each group of students would be able to view different museum exhibits, both local and at a distance via video.

Second, if this type of quid pro quo situation does not work out, it may be possible to have the museum’s outreach department arrange for a video “tour” of the facility, to be followed by a question and answer period with the curators.

In any of the scenarios, it is possible to focus in on a couple of art pieces in each exhibit to create and/or upload a “still” image for the students to discuss together.  This could especially intriguing if the teacher is able to work out a collaborative student-pairing scenario with students from New York.  In either event, it will still make for great discussion.

Another technology tool that would be beneficial would be a class blog wherein the students compare and contrast their perceptions and ideas regarding the art work “toured” online and the resulting discussions.  The teacher could have the students create a blog and then read a variety of the other students’ blogs.  Afterwards, the teacher could have the students participate in a follow up discussion.


Real Life Examples

It is possible to enjoy an interactive art exhibit online.  In one of my previous courses we were given a link for an interactive graphic from a museum restoring a piece of artwork.  It was unbelievably amazing.  The Colonial Williamsburg Museum Project was able to display various aspects of the restoration of the “Murray Sisters” ( including before treatment picture, with raking light, infrared reflectography, x-radiography, ultraviolet illumination, missing portions refilled and finally, displaying the final results.  The website is interactive in that the learner can view the images at various stages of the process, compare images at various stages, zoomed in, and zoomed out.  It was very impressive.

Colonial Williamsburg also has a “Mapping Colonial America” exhibit as well.  Again, learners can tour the exhibit entirely online, which includes maps from 1587 through 1782.  According to the overview, “the online exhibition looks at maps relating to colonial discovery, exploration, boundary disputes, navigation, trade, the French and Indian War, and the Revolutionary War.  The exhibition features a zooming tool allowing a close look at map details, a glossary of terms, and a timeline of major events in history (, p. 1).

Addressing video conferencing from yet another direction, IVCI is a company dedicated to providing technology tools to support education as well as corporation applications.  According to them, “video conferencing makes it possible for students to safely visit new places without leaving the classroom” . . . “video conferencing gives students the rare opportunity to talk to a national pool of experts in various fields of study” (“Video conferencing,” 2010, p. 1).  Although this company clearly has its own agenda in mind (selling video conferencing tools), they followed up providing a variety of case studies wherein the video conferencing did in fact make for great educational experiences.  For instance, the “Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts” successfully utilized video conferencing tools to expand their performing art education program internationally (Soden, n.d).  Another case study found Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business embracing video conferencing in an effort to maintain their edge in educating future business makers (



Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2009). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (4th Ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education.

Soden, P. (n.d). The Hong Kong academy of performing arts. Retrieved from

Video conferencing for education. (2010). Retrieved from


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