Virtual Field Trips

CA State Parks Bring Live Field Trips into Classroom Virtually


In order to provide unique, hands-on learning experiences for children, California State Parks has been working to expand its distance learning program, PORTS (Parks Online Resources for Teachers and Schools).

PORTS is a collaboration with innovative ed tech companies to provide one-of-a-kind learning experiences for teachers and students. For instance, in a partnership with Belkin Education, a networking and accessories company, PORTS is offering real-time virtual field trips in 10 California state parks, conducted by state park rangers. Units of study include kelp forests, redwood ecology, monarch butterfly migration and historical subjects like the Gold Rush.

Here are some examples of PORTS’ impact in schools:

  • In the last school year, PORTS delivered close to 1,500 presentations to more than 46,000 students in 100 school districts across California;
  • Of the 202 individual schools that participated in PORTS, 133 were Title 1, or low-income schools;
  • 74 percent of participants have given PORTS the highest grade for overall program experience;
  • Students who have participated in the program were more focused and engaged, according to a news release, and teachers noticed a decline in behavioral issues.

Here are some more details about the PORTS program, from the field to the classroom:

  • PORTS utility vehicles function as mobile studios, equipped with the Belkin Tablet Stage, an adjustable platform that turns any tablet into an interactive presentation tool. Park rangers use the iPad as a document camera and video presentation system.
  • The Tablet Stage has replaced a bulky and cumbersome laptop-based system. It’s much easier for park rangers to carry and move around (e.g., kelp forest presentations are done from a kayak) and the video quality is better.
  • The accompanying Stage App lets rangers annotate over live video and draw on the screen, enabling an interactive learning experience.
  • On the classroom side, using the Tablet Stage eliminates the need for schools to have a dedicated and expensive video conferencing system. Instead, all they need is an iPad or tablet device. Teachers can customize the view for their students so the park interpreters can see the entire classroom and speak directly with students. This allows students the opportunity to ask questions, engage in conversations and experience the park in real-time, without leaving the classroom.
  • As the backbone of its system, PORTS employs a cloud-based video solution form Vidyo managed by California’s K–12 High Speed Network to deliver an experience that feels as immersive as possible. This year, PORTS brought students into the kelp forest via a ranger using a submerged GoPro camera while video conferencing from a kayak.

About the Author

Richard Chang is associate editor of THE Journal. He can be reached at [email protected].