I recently spent several days in Nashville, TN working with members of the Student & Youth Travel Association (SYTA). This group is a North American membership organization for businesses that serve the student travel market, including day trips and overnight trips for school groups and individuals. Most of these trips are for educational purposes or musical events, but also include sports activities, graduation trips, and more. As is the case with so many other extracurricular activities, thanks to the demands of high-stakes testing and time constraints, schools are struggling to keep travel programs afloat.
There are a number of studies showing that student travel is an integral part of a complete education. Benefits of travel include greater tolerance and respect for other cultures, increased self-confidence and flexibility, opportunities to apply classroom learning in real world environments, and the new learning that takes place in the areas of academics, social, and life skills while traveling. The people I met during the conference were very clear in their commitment to making every minute of every trip count for students and the adults who accompany them. One way they are doing this is by exploring ways they can leverage use of the mobile technologies students are bringing on trips to keep them engaged and productive throughout their travel experience.
It would be unrealistic to say that student use of mobile technology on school trips has all been a bed of roses. Just like at school there are students who make good use of the technology they have and students who abuse the privilege. But that is not deterring conference attendees. With the realization that mobile technology is here to stay and that their livelihood depends on their ability to provide educational experiences from the time a trip is announced to the time students return home, SYTA members were eager to discuss ideas and preview Web-based tools and apps that can expand and enhance students’ travel experience.
What were some of the hot topics? QR Codes are popular for a variety of purposes. Museums and other venues that offer curated exhibits or who want a method for quick dissemination of information are using QR Codes for these purposes. Some tour guides are even experimenting with use of QR Code scavenger hunts during city walks, although connectivity issues can be a challenge. Motor coach companies are receiving increasing requests to provide wireless access on the road. This has led to some companies working with destination spots to launch activities related to the location travelers are visiting even before they arrive. In another vein, some members were also interested in ways they could use mobile technology to manage trips more efficiently and effectively. Links to online resources provided to this group over the four-day conference are available here.
One of the biggest takeaways for me was the realization that as a teacher and school administrator I could have done a better job working with the people who helped arrange school trips. I did not take full advantage of the education programs and other services offered. These days, with all the technology at our disposal, it’s even more important to work with these folks. Not only can the student experience be enhanced, but it can help you do a better job of communication and management of your school trips.