Virtual 'field' trips aim to complement learning amid COVID-19 curbs
This photo shows the virtual tour of the National Museum of Anthropology in Manila, one of the free sites that schools and students can visit for their distance learning.
Screengrab/Museum Foundation of the Philippines

Virtual 'field' trips aim to complement learning amid COVID-19 curbs

Christian Deiparine (Philstar.com) - May 18, 2021 - 8:07pm

MANILA, Philippines — As the pandemic forced schooling to go online, some groups also took to cyberspace what was usually a learning experience beyond classrooms — educational trips.

Before the health crisis hit, the Masungi Georeserve in Rizal had partnerships with more than 40 schools for reforestation activities and learning trips. 

Some restrictions have been eased more than a year since in-person classes were halted but the reservation has yet to see school-aged children return for class trips. 

"However, we do see a lot of interest in families wanting to bring out their young kids," said Billie Dumaliang, an advocacy officer and trustee of the Masungi Georeserve in an exchange with Philstar.com.

The foundation has since developed Masungi 360, a virtual platform for students with a keen interest on conservation. Its mission: draw local conservation education nearer to students to prevent future health crises.

"We envision a Filipino youth that is aware of our unique environmental challenges and actively participates in solutions in addressing these challenges," its website reads.

Dumaliang said more than a thousand students have already taken vritual trips with them since the soft launch of the program.

According to the site, Masungi 360 offers a gamified learning experience with three virtual learning trails, along with a management system for schools to track their students' progress. 

"Being with nature, touching it, being at awe with it, contributes to child development, mental health, and social awareness," Dumaliang said. "The full experience cannot be captured in a virtual way, but we try our best to do so."

Mount Makiling Forest Reserve

Also in Calabarzon, the sprawling Mt. Makiling Forest Reserve covering over 4,200 hectares sits in Los Baños, Laguna.

The place is known for the inactive volcano associated with Maria Makiling, a well-known character in Philippine folklore. In 2013, it became one of the country's nine ASEAN heritage parks.

While the site remains closed to visitors, the reserve's annual tour program "Make it Makiling!" has found a platform on the Internet. In April, it launched a 360-degree panoramic travel blog on YouTube with videos covering activities such as trail running, biking, trekking and camping.

The videos are a joint effort by the University of the Philippines' campus there and the local governments of Los Baños, Bay, Calamba City in Laguna and Sto. Tomas in Batangas, along with private and civic groups.

Pre-pandemic, forester Mae Belen Putian of the Makiling Center for Mountain Ecosystems said, field trips accounted for a large part of visits, but were only limited to the botanical gardens. 

"We had this idea of going virtual late last year," she shared in an exchange. "Due to the COVID-19, we are not allowed to open and receive visitors, so we conceptualized and shot the entire experience."

Putian said a team of foresters are behind the panoramic vlog, shot on a special camera. While their videos have averaged some 700 views,  she said they have yet to get inquiries from schools about possible partnerships.

"It's very important," she added, when asked about virtual platforms such as the reserve's project. "[Other] people, not only students, are welcome to visit our Facebook and YouTube accounts to momentarily experience nature even in the comfort of their homes and learn about nature, and what benefits it provide."

Appreciating art

What Metro Manila lacks in biodiversity areas, it has in art and artifacts.

Schools and other visitors can book virtual field trips with the Ayala Museum, where students are toured around key events in the country's precolonial and Spanish-era history.

These tours are for Grades 4 to 6 for a price of P15,000 ($310) covering 20 participants and an accompanying teacher or parent. Fees distributed, that's P750 for each student.

In Manila, the National Museum also has its own free "Sulyap Museo", where visitors can tour, at least virtually, its nine galleries.

The online trip is accompanied by songs from UP Manila's chorale. Paintings and artifacts also captions and descriptions that users can click to view.

The museums on Anthropology and Natural History can be accessed through the same site.

Those curious about the history of the country's leaders can learn a lot from Malacañang's Presidential Museum and Library online exhibit, a project launched with Google Arts and Culture in 2017.

Visitors can explore for free and at any time, the significant rooms of the Kalayaan Hall as well as artifacts that played a huge role in the Philippine history.

"Noteworthy furniture, artwork, memorabilia and items from the collections of the Palace as well as private institutions and individuals have been assembled to form a unique and substantial exhibition for visitors," its website read.

The current school year in the Philippines will end by July 10. It remains uncertain if the government will allow the resumption of in-person learning soon, given the COVID-19 picture and a vaccination program that has faced delays.

But perhaps Dumaliang was right. While these virtual platforms could not give the full experience for students' learning outside their classrooms, they provide nonetheless the crucial avenue to complement blended learning in troubled times such as the pandemic.

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