Virtual Field Trip: The U.S. Capitol

The Education Techie writes about tech tools that can help students and teachers. Have you ever wanted to take an educational field trip to a place that is too far away to reasonably visit? Thanks to the Internet, many educationally rich locations are just a few clicks away. Today, the Techie will show you how to take a virtual field trip to the U.S. Capitol.

What You Can See

With its columned dome and high-reaching spire, the U.S. Capitol building is an imposing sight on the Washington, D.C., skyline. The inside of the building is equally as impressive, but not everyone can make it for an actual visit. If you want to see the inside of the Capitol from afar, or show the building to your class, you're in luck. The U.S. Senate website features a virtual tour of the Capitol building.

The tour consists of interactive, scrolling photographic panoramas accompanied by written information. The panoramas aren't large, but they are high-resolution. In most of these images, there are 'hot spots' that allow users to click for more visual detail and information. Underneath the panorama, there is a map of the Capitol building. Your current location is highlighted in this map.

old supreme court chamber tour

Hot spots in these panoramas give further detail about objects in the rooms featured. For example, in the Old Supreme Court Chamber on the building's first floor, there is a hot spot for the bust sculptures of the first five Supreme Court Justices (pictured above). Clicking on the red bull's-eye logo shows a photograph of each of these busts, along with information about the individual depicted.

Similar details are available in most of the rooms featured on the site. The tour covers the first and second floors of the building, focusing on rooms of major importance - like the Senate Chamber and the President's Room. However, when I accessed the tour, some of the links were broken, so you might not get to see as much as you'd like.

How It Works

Navigation around the tour is very straightforward. You can either click around the building map or use highlighted links on the screen to navigate from room to room. Within the panoramas, you can zoom in or out on details, and to identify hot spots, you can either use your mouse to hover around and reveal them, or you can press the space bar. There are both low-and-high-bandwidth tours available, so even if your Internet connection isn't particularly fast, you can probably still go on the tour.

Because navigation is so simple, most students could move around the tour without much supervision. However, teachers may want to guide the tour on a large screen if possible. I think this is a good idea mostly because of the small size of the panorama screen. Some teachers would also prefer to guide the tour this way so they can present historical information to the class in a way that ensures comprehension.

Overall, the tour isn't exactly a stand-in for an in-person visit - it's just not visually detailed enough. Still, I think this is a pretty valuable feature, and the historical information provided is insightful. The way that information is contextualized within the physical existence of a building may help make history lessons more accessible for some students.

This isn't the first virtual field trip that the Techie has taken. Previously, we showed you how to go to the Vatican, Monticello and the Lincoln Memorial from the comfort of your classroom. The Education Techie will keep searching for virtual field trip opportunities, so stay tuned for more!

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