During the COVID-19 pandemic, physical school visits cannot be arranged. At Samiedu Vocational College in Eastern Finland, school visits and recreational visits to the town of Savonlinna are made virtually with ThingLink. New students get to know the degree programs in advance and international guests learn from the real-life guide in real time on Teams – not only about the school but also about the Finnish sauna tradition.
Virtual live guided tours and interactive introductory materials
Samiedu Vocational College operates in Savonlinna, Eastern Finland, and provides training in basic vocational education, further and specialist qualifications, and in apprenticeship training.
During the coronavirus pandemic, Samiedu’s international and educational technology expert Anne-Mari Behm decided to start implementing live, guided virtual campus tours in Teams and Zoom for international Erasmus teachers. Inspired by the successful international virtual visits, she also decided to create virtual introductory materials for young people considering studying at Samiedu. The solution was an interactive presentation that gave young people remote access to the 18 fields of study, which were part of the joint application system used in Finland. The fields included bakery-confectionery, social and health, automotive, forestry and media facilities, among others. The introductory package offers ninth graders, usually 16-year-olds, opportunities to see for example what the school is like, what kind of equipment can be found, what is actually done at school and what future work in the field could look like.
Although physical tours could no longer be arranged for international guests, Anne-Mari wanted the visits to maintain a warm and personal atmosphere and for guests to have a realistic experiences in real environments.
Welcome to Samiedu!
As a long-standing ThingLink user, she had been creating immersive learning experiences for a long time, and now she wanted to make sure visitors could get to know the different educational fields of the school. A school tour was born, during which you stop to hear the greetings of the school principal. The journey then continues to introduce different fields based on the interests of the guests. Each round stop is located in the teaching environment of the field, and the visitors can peek into the teaching activities through teacher video presentations, background information links to the school website, and demonstrations of equipment relevant to the field.
During the tour, one of the stops is the forest sector.
Live guidance on Teams meets the needs of the guests
International visitors are interested in the Finnish education system and Samiedu’s educational offer. But they also want to look around the medieval castle of Olavinlinna, see what to do in a sauna and experience what is it like to pick mushrooms in the forest.
Anne-Mari’s live guided tours on Teams allowed the visitors to peek into classrooms, chat about their questions with school teachers, and sit virtually on the sauna benches and listen to the hiss of the stove. The live chat was successful via a Teams video call during which participants were given a ThingLink link and Anne-Mari shared her computer screen. She led the visitors on a virtual tour from one location to the next and explained at the same time. When the tour reached the class of a teacher participating in a Teams call, the teacher took the floor, spoke about the field and answered questions posed by guests in a chat or out loud. The real-time context brought intimacy to the visits and allowed for genuine dialogue and sharing of experiences.
Feels like a real visit
“ThingLink tours have enabled a greater number of visits. Before the pandemic, there were about 40 guests, 30 of whom were students and 10 teachers. There have been as many as 200 guests in the last year. Virtual visits are faster to arrange and require less preparation – for example, there is no catering to organise. We tailor the visits to the interests of the visitors – the material is ready and we have several ThingLink versions of the tour – we can decide which programs and leisure destinations to take the visitors to. I also adjust my live guide speeches spontaneously according to the situation and based on the questions. ”
Anne-Mari has also consulted with tourism experts, with whom they discussed how to make the virtual visits feel as real as possible. Tips from the consultation included a drone video in which visitors arrive at the school yard like flying in a helicopter while the guide asks them to hold on and prepare to land. At the end of the visit, guests fly again, this time over the school yard and the woods and lakes. Anne-Mari has made both summer and winter versions of the visits to make the experience suitable for the season as well.
During the Erasmus visit, guests will also stop at the medieval castle of Olavinlinna and start kayaking towards the summer cottage.
The experiences and feedback from both students and Erasmus visitors has been really positive, which has encouraged the creation of new versions. Anne-Mari has created content for the visits, acted as a photographer and editor. In addition, the videos feature speakers from Samiedu’s various disciplines who have also been involved in live events on Teams to answer questions. For teachers, too, the experience of presenting the school and their own field has been inspiring and provided an opportunity for international dialogues. This has been particularly important during a pandemic, as international Erasmus projects have been able to continue their activities through virtual visits and Teams discussions.
During the tour, you will get to know a number of educational fields, for example in the video corner.
Easy content production
Anne-Mari says that ThingLink was chosen as the platform because it makes visually beautiful, interactive content easy and fast to produce for anyone. She also uses ThingLink as a platform for sharing 360 images, even when she is not creating actual interactive tours with tags. With ThingLink, 360 images and videos are reproduced at a high quality.
Anne-Mari encourages teachers to try to create content with an open mind and to start by using familiar ways to produce material, taking small steps. One can start by using images and creating short virtual tours and then proceed to trying videos. Anne-Mari says she spent time editing the videos and composing the details that appear in the videos, but recalls that less edited videos also offer the visitor a new experience. The main thing is to be bold and to try; the end result can be developed gradually as new ideas accumulate.
What else could you do with ThingLink?
In the future, virtual visits could also be used for studies in the field of tourism. Tourism students from different countries could create short interactive learning experiences for each other and take a virtual trip to visit each other. Anne-Mari also says they are considering creating a ThingLink escape room game for instruction in first aid courses. Among other things, the use of VR glasses as an immersive enhancer and the possibility of conditional transitions, where a certain answer is required in order to move forward, are being considered. We look forward to seeing what the Samiedu staff will accomplish!
Anne-Mari Behm, International and Educational Technology Specialist at Samiedu Development Services
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