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FHS, National Parks Service to team up for virtual tours of Aztec Ruins, Chaco

Project is in partnership with education technology group Immersive Education Initiative

Megan Petersen
Farmington Daily Times
Aaron Walsh, director of Immersive Education Initiative gives a presentation on Friday during a seminar on programming and coding through gaming at Farmington High School.
  • The Immersive Education Initiative uses virtual and augmented reality and other technology as education tools.
  • Regional National Parks Services sites are 'perfect match' for project, chief of interpretation says.
  • Project could help with the region's tourism industry, FHS principal says.

FARMINGTON — Farmington High School’s new campus got the virtual tour treatment on Friday as the school works to begin a partnership with the Immersive Education Initiative and the U.S. National Parks Service.

Middle and high school students and teachers from Farmington conducted a survey of the new campus to create a three-dimensional virtual tour for the school’s website on Friday morning. FHS Principal Tim Kienitz said the tour will likely go up on the school’s website soon.

The school tour was an introduction to the world of education through virtual and augmented reality, and using technology and games as a multi-disciplined educational tool.

Kienitz said the school is working with the Immersive Education Initiative, a Boston-based education technology organization, to set up a project where local students work with National Parks Service staff to create virtual tours of Aztec Ruins National Monument and Chaco Culture National Historic Park to share with the world.

Aaron Walsh, director of the Immersive Education Initiative and a childhood friend of Kienitz’s, visited Farmington to host an information session for potential partners and trainings for potential students and teachers on Friday and Saturday at FHS.

Farmington High School Assistant Principal Rocky Moore looks through virtual reality viewer to view a photo of a classroom Friday during a seminar on programing and coding through gaming at Farmington High School.

Keinitz said the school is working to establish a coding and programming course that would begin next fall to help facilitate the project, which would also require extracurricular commitment by students and teachers. The project will be funded through Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Improvement Act grants, Keinitz said.

The project will entail students and teachers working with the National Parks Service to survey the two cultural sites with the goal of creating a virtual tour that could be shared, according to Walsh.
 
Walsh said the Immersive Education Institute has partners throughout the globe, which not only allows students to learn more about their local historic sites and how to use the latest technology to document them, but also to explore similar projects in a “cultural exchange.”

Nathan Hatfield, NPS chief of interpretation for Aztec Ruins and Chaco, said the local sites, which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, are “a perfect match” for the project.

Farmington district teachers and students attend a seminar on programming and coding through gaming on Friday at Farmington High School.

“For anyone who’s been to Aztec or Chaco, you know that those sites would be really conducive with this type of thing,” Hatfield said, adding that he hoped NPS could make exceptions for students to access restricted areas for the project.

Kienitz said the project could help with county-wide efforts to diversify the local economy by strengthening the tourism economy.

“I’m thinking how can we partner with the Jolt Your Journey group to really make the experience, because tourism for the area is a huge need,” Keinitz said, speaking of the City of Farmington’s branding campaign that includes a focus on tourism.

From left, Aaron Walsh, director of Immersive Education Initiative and Farmington High School Principal Tim Kienitz prepare for a presentation on Friday during a seminar on programming and coding through gaming at Farmington High School.

The program would also likely partner with San Juan College so the project and high school classes could serve as “feeder program” for the college’s computer science and technology programs.

“With this project, we’re putting our toes in the water for what we want to accomplish down the road,” Keinitz said.

More information about the Immersive Education Initiative is available at www.immersiveeducation.org.

Megan Petersen covers business and education for The Daily Times. Reach her at 505-564-4621 or mpetersen@daily-times.com.