Virtual Visual Visitation 

OKCMOA is launching a new virtual field trip program to bring the museum into classrooms statewide.

click to enlarge Amanda Harmer guides a class virtual through the museum's collection. - PHOTO PROVIDED
  • Photo Provided
  • Amanda Harmer guides a class virtual through the museum's collection.

There are few childhood traditions more anticipated or memorable than the field trip. That feeling of getting to school on the day with your permission slip in hand, knowing that you’re going to get to do or see something so far out of the ordinary for your usual school day that they couldn’t even fit it inside the same building. Knowing that you’re going to learn about something cool or interesting that you’ll get to see and ask questions about instead of just reading out of the textbooks and scribbling on your homework. It’s a feeling that we likely all remember, and one that we surely all want for the next generations as well.

But of course, budget cuts, classroom sizes, teacher shortages, and now COVID-19. Each of these issues alone is a nail in the class field trip’s coffin. All of them combined make it impossible.

That’s where the Oklahoma City Museum of Art is stepping in with an all-new Virtual Field Trip program designed specifically to work around all of those obstacles.

“With the uncertainty surrounding the upcoming school year, we had to find ways to continue to bring the Museum to Oklahoma students,” OKCMOA Curatorial Affairs Director Rosie May said. “With the launch of Virtual Field Trips, we will be able to serve even more students.”

Obviously, COVID-19 is the most immediate and pressing concern, even if students have been returning to the classroom en masse. With rising variants, spiking case numbers, and growing alarm over the rate of infection among schoolchildren, the looming uncertainty about in-person schooling versus remote learning has only increased. Understanding this, the team at OKCMOA wanted to create a service that could be just as useful inside a full classroom as inside a full Zoom session.

“The ‘cart’ we have is really cool,” said Marketing Director Becky Weintz, speaking about the camera-equipped mobile station that will be used to show virtual visitors around the space. “It has these really high-quality HD cameras that can zoom way in to show small details, and it’s all set up for our curators to jump right into whatever platform a class is using.”

The team’s main focus is making sure that students can receive the same kind of “inquiry-driven” experience that they would get in an in-person tour or field trip.

“It’s going to be really cool to have the curators themselves actually controlling the cart,” Weintz said. “They can take and answer questions from the kids in real time.”

This new project isn’t all just for the sake of COVID-19 precautions, though. A big part of the idea was also acknowledging that not every school in the state could so easily arrange a student trip even before the pandemic. They wanted to make it easier for classes from all across Oklahoma to experience what the museum has to offer.

“Even though we always reimburse the schools for travel, it’s just not possible for a lot of schools to come here,” Weintz said. “It’s like, the panhandle is what, four or five hours away? That would be a huge and difficult trip for a school to bring their students all that way. This way, we can give them that experience without them having to worry about all of that.”

And it’s not just the travel logistics that trip up so many schools. With education budgets still dwindling, many of them, especially inner-city schools, simply don’t have the funding available to give their students a true field trip experience.

“This is definitely something that we intend to keep available even after COVID,” Weintz said. “We want to make sure that every school has the opportunity to see what we have here and to learn from our curators. We’re excited to really ramp up and continue our in-person tours and field trips, but this will also be available for any school that feels it’s better or easier for them.”

The Oklahoma City Museum of Art is currently booking virtual field trips for schools, with several themes available ranging from their current “Painters of Pompeii” exhibit, “examining art for context,” and a virtual class about careers in the museum and art history fields. There is even a “meet an archeologist” unit available where students will be able to speak directly with a working archeologist that has helped excavate historical sites around Europe.

“This is a great example of a program we would not have been able to offer in-person,” May said. “With virtual learning, the sky is the limit.”

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