It’s that time of year when the summer is ending and school will soon be back in session. A new school year means new textbooks, new teachers, new classmates and of course, new virtual field trips to look forward to. But did you know that virtual field trips are not limited to children alone? As Einstein famously said, “Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.” With the help of HD video collaboration technology, virtual field trips have expanded beyond K-12 and college classrooms, and can now be done with learners of all ages – even senior citizens.
Senior Learning Network, an organization led by Ellen Ervin and Lynne Beachner, aims to provide engaging, lifelong learning experiences to aging individuals who are unable to travel. The idea for the organization stemmed from an experience Beachner had while taking her elderly father on a trip to the National World War I museum in Kansas City. She found it difficult to navigate the galleries with her father, due to his limited mobility, and thought how much easier it would be to bring the museum to him, rather than have him travel.
Because Ervin and Beachner had both worked in education, they were familiar with video conferencing technology already.
“I have really watched the video conferencing industry evolve from a dedicated T1 line to the sophisticated systems we have today,” said Ervin. “In my previous position, we used Polycom which presented us with all kinds of issues related to bandwidth, speed and networking. I knew that, for Senior Learning Network, we needed a reliable, high quality video solution that could grow with us over time.”
With the help of LifeSize valued partner, Kaleidoscope Videoconferencing, Senior Learning Network invested in LifeSize ClearSea to help bring virtual field trips to life in senior community centers and retirement homes across the country.
“We simply asked if anyone would be interested in a pilot program for lifelong learning over video conferencing,” explained Ervin. “The feedback was astounding. We received 25 responses from a single post from senior center directors all over the country. At that moment, we knew we had an incredible idea on our hands.”
Even though SLN is a new venture, the women have already been able to offer a number of programs to the senior community, including virtual trips to NASA, Smithsonian Museum, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Hallmark Card Visitors’ Center, Kansas City Zoo and of course, the World War I Museum. In the future, they would like to offer virtual book clubs, Jeopardy tournaments, Wii bowling and more.
The seniors themselves also have unique experiences to share, and Ervin and Beachner believe that video conferencing can help tell those stories to an even wider audience. For example, one 80-year-old man specializes in energy medicine, chakras and pressure points for maintaining health, and shared his knowledge with other seniors over video conferencing. Another senior shared her experiences as the first black principal after desegregation at a school in South Carolina.
“LifeSize ClearSea really is the engine that runs this program,” said Ervin. “Without such intuitive, easy-to-use technology, there’s no way we could provide the enriching programs that we do. We really appreciate the support of LifeSize and the interactive video experiences they provide.”