It can be disheartening to read how budget cutbacks are affecting education overall. If you have not been hit with layoffs then you may be furloughed. While your job may be secure, you probably will have to make do with less materials and opportunities to help your students. One thing that has surely been cut down to nothing is field trips. In Beaufort County, South Carolina there are many historical places for teachers to take their students to learn about how our area was involved from colonization to post Civil War Reconstruction. No matter how many videos and photo slideshows you can show it is not the same as being there.
Here is where one of the hottest trends in social media can possibly help out. In location-based social media, such as Foursquare or Gowalla, members check in at places they visit during the day. The person and location are shared with their friends on smartphone applications or Twitter or Facebook. Points are given for checking in with Foursquare which are tallied on scoreboard with your friends. With Gowalla, you may find certain items to collect or share. Using location-based social media teachers could setup field trips students can do themselves or with their families. Here are two examples of how this can work.
We will use Foursquare in our first example. A teacher goes to each location he or she wishes to include in the field trip. The site can be registered if needed by the teacher if they have a smartphone such as the iPhone or Android phone. The teacher would enter a Tip about the place. This tip could be a bit of trivia about the place or an assessment question that can be answered by learning something during the visit. Teacher gives the list of places to students who writes up a report in a blog and sends back to the teacher who evaluates and grades the work. In our Gowalla example, our teacher could post a notes with questions about the sites students would visit. However, the neat thing is the teacher can actually create and post a "trip" which can be shared with other teachers along with the students. Students would blog answers to assessment questions found on the application for the teacher to grade.
There are some downsides to these field trips. First not every student has a smartphone to use the applications. Next, not every student could possibly take these trips for whatever reason. That is why this could be part of an extra-credit or a choice for a student or team project. The upside is that you would have students taking charge of their learning as they go through a guided discovery process. Plus, these are activities entire families can engage in which is always nice and keeps them safe too. If you have a smartphone then download and register for one or both of these applications and see what you can do with it.