Agencies Work As One on Virtual Excursion Pilot

Life Saving Victoria (LSV), the Country Fire Authority (CFA) and Ambulance Victoria (AV) came together to promote safer and more resilient communities over summer, delivering virtual excursions through the use of video conferencing to schools across Victoria for a highly successful pilot project.

“As emergency management agencies, we often find ourselves inadvertently competing to get into schools to deliver our safety messages,” says Kate Simpson, LSV GM of Education and Sport. “It’s not possible, nor is it cost-effective, for us to visit every school, especially given the volunteer nature of the emergency management agencies. So, to be able to work together with the other agencies and take our combined safety messages to the masses from one location was a fantastic opportunity.”

The project was delivered to a school in each of the metropolitan (Frankston) and regional (Loddon Campaspe) regions of Victoria, with selection based on a ranking of drowning (from 2005-2015) by local government area, age and schools ranked in areas of relative socioeconomic disadvantage.

The sessions were child-centred, meaning the Prep students determined what they would like to know from the agencies by submitting questions prior to the session. These were then answered during the virtual excursion. The teachers were also provided lesson plans for students to complete in class before the virtual excursion.

“The excursions were tailored to students in Foundation (Prep) for around 70 students across the two schools,” says Melissa Laird, Water Safety Education Manager. “The programs focused on the theme of ‘People in the community who can help us’ and aligned with the Personal, Social and Community Health strand of the Health and Physical Education curriculum.”

LSV scoped the use of video conferencing for virtual excursions over two years, including observing live sessions and participation with numerous organisations who have delivered virtual excursions to schools, including the Australian Children’s Television Foundation (ACTF), Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) and National Rugby League (NRL).

“While face-to-face education program delivery is still very important, the virtual excursions provided a feasible and engaging way to deliver safety education to children,” says Melissa. “It was also an opportunity to work with other agencies for the same end result of preparing communities for emergency situations.”

An evaluation report – ‘Water Safety and Disaster Resilience Education (DRE) – Virtual Excursions (A Pilot)’ – was recently produced by LSV’s Aquatic Risk and Research department, showing the success of the project, including the strong partnership and collaboration between LSV, AV and the CFA, and the effectiveness of providing essential disaster resilience education to students via virtual excursions.

“All emergency management personnel found it easy to get to the filming location at LSV state headquarters and saw the benefit of using this delivery method to get to a number of schools, especially to connect with those in regional or remote areas,” says Melissa. “It was a great outcome after all the hard work behind the scenes.”

Feedback from teachers was high in praise and included:

The kids are now so involved with technology and ICT, they know all about it and it keeps them engaged.

Despite the obvious advantages of traditional visits, we would definitely be interested in using the virtual excursion with lifesavers, as that is something we don’t have access to here. For small schools that may not have their own local community emergency personnel, it would be great to offer virtual excursions to those who don’t have access.

Having three different agencies together in one session, when often we can only get them individually, was a fantastic experience. The students are given the opportunity to see these people [emergency personnel] as ‘real people’ – it’s a great way for kids to learn.

I thought it was really awesome and the kids loved it! They really got a lot out of it, they’re still talking about it now.

Teachers also shared their most effective tools for maintaining student engagement, which included the paramedic explaining what to do in an emergency by using ‘Stretch’, a soft toy bear; the firefighter putting on all his safety gear; the lifesaver demonstrating a rescue board and asking the students to pretend to paddle on one; asking children to write ‘000’ with their hands or standing up and waving for help.

“The virtual excursion provided an exciting opportunity to use online platforms and innovative video conference technology to deliver an ‘all emergencies, all communities’ approach to safety education,” says Kate. “This pilot project has also demonstrated the effectiveness of the program in using inter-agency collaboration and technology advancements to deliver engaging, informative, relevant safety education to Victorian students, whilst removing some traditional barriers in this area.”

Future programs will create further learning opportunities for virtual excursions and help emergency management agencies spread their safety messages to the more than 1,700 government, catholic and independent schools across the state that service more than half a million primary-school-aged children in Victoria, and potentially further afield in years to come

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