Earlier this week I came across a facebook post by Denali National Park of a youtube video promoting their online distance learning programs. Their free programs are designed to meet national teaching standards and are appropriate for students in grades K – 12. As part of each program the students schedule a free 60-minute interactive conference with a park ranger via skype. What makes these programs successful is that they are interactive- students actually get to meet virtually with someone at the park- and it utilizes a variety of media appropriate to the topic. There are pre-visit and post-visit activities and a wealth of online resources for the teacher to use in class in addition to the visit if they choose. These additional resources alone would be fodder for hours of engaging classroom activities. For a park like Denali, this is a logical use of technology. Most classes can’t make the trip to Alaska. In fact, Alaskan parks are among the least visited in the National Park system. At a time when many museum professionals are afraid that putting too much online will deter visitors from coming, Denali rangers are trying to create an online experience that can substitute an in-person visit. They would agree with Nancy Cutler when she said “Museums have a limited impact when their audience is confined to the people who visit within their walls. Extending beyond the museum walls into the community to demonstrate why your museums matters can benefit both the museum and the community in innumerable ways.” They know an online visit never really could replace the real thing, but Denali staff have brought as much of the park as possible to students.
Two programs were being offered when I visited their site on September 13. One of their programs Denali: The High One (Geology of the Mountain) is designed for 4th-6th grade. This program “focuses on the dynamic geologic processes – subduction, uplift and erosion – that created North America’s tallest mountain. Students investigate why Denali is so big, how it influences the weather, and whether glaciers are succeeding at making the mountain smaller”. There is a pre-visit activity which takes an hour, and the conference itself is also an hour. Besides those two components the rest is optional. Optional resources inclue a post-visit acitvity, panoramic views of the park, and a 4 minute video “Climbing Denali”. The Science of Sled Dogs is a biology program for 3rd-5th grade about Denali’s famous dog-sled team. Like the other program it includes a 1 hour pre-visit activity and a 1 hour skype conference with a park ranger. What I want to know is, do you get to skype with the dogs too? Fans of Denali National Park may already be familiar with their live “puppycam” and a video series called “puppy paws” all about the sled dog puppies who are born and raised at Denali National Park. There are few students, or adults who wouldn’t find these videos engaging.
Since my first visit to their site last week, they have added yet another distance learning program to their offerings, Ask An Alaskan- Living and Working in Alaska.The program is appropriate for K-12 grade and can be on any topic. The idea behind this program is to skype with an Alaska resident and have the class ask them anything and everything about Alaska. This program seems underdeveloped, but that is most likely because it was only added to the site a few days ago. I would like to see more information about which standards it meets. I would also expect additional teacher resources and a more detailed description of the program. The description is very vague and it seems as if the program was not fully developed before being put online.
The only suggestion for improvement I would make is to keep registration information updated. When I visited their site 4 days ago, it included information on how to register for a program for the Fall 2012 semester. Today the registration information has already been updated to reflect the 2013-2014 school year. The information should have been updated sooner for teachers looking to plan further in advance. Beside that small complaint, I am impressed by the scope of Denali’s online offerings. Their program design is innovative and something I hope to see more of. This type of program isn’t right for everyone, but is perfect for places like Denali. This is a creative solution for National Parks that everyone has heard of, but few can get to (ie. The Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Ellis Island, etc.)
Cutler, Nancy. “Reaching Out Into the Community,” in The Museum Educators’ Manual. (New York: Altamira Press, 2009) 87-94