As part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s ongoing focus to advance the agenda on education, Discovery Education and the White House have teamed up for a special virtual field trip event where she will make a week-long visit to China March 19-26. In a cross-cultural exchange led by the First Lady, students across the United States will be provided with the digital learning experience of being transported to a Chinese classroom.
The partnership is consistent with the Obama administration’s pledge this past February to help connect over 15,000 schools with high speed Internet. The path toward 21st century digital classrooms will be further aided by $400 million in commitments from software companies to help teachers digitally adapt school curriculums.
The First Lady’s education-focused trip is being seen by the U.S. media as an effort toward a soft diplomacy approach. Unlike the previous two first ladies, Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush, Mrs. Obama has no plans to broach the more complicated issues facing human rights in China.
Instead, the First Lady will visit schools and historical sites with the Chinese President’s wife, Peng Liyuan, to discuss their common defining issue on education. Sharing those exchanges virtually with students ties back to the importance of cultural exchanges between youth, as has been emphasized by Mrs. Obama.
Discovery Education provides standards-based digital content for a range of school districts and professional development for K-12. SLJ spoke with Discovery Education Senior Vice-President Scott Kinney who stressed the purpose behind the virtual experience is to offer students a unique opportunity “to build cultural awareness and global citizenship.”
”Discovery Education has a rich history of taking students outside the classroom to introduce them to the people, places, and issues that shape our world,” explains Kinney. “[The First Lady of the United States] had already been planning a trip to China, so the White House and Discovery Education collaborated to develop a related learning opportunity for students across the United States.”
Discovery’s online broadcast will be in conjunction with the “Of the People: Live from the White House” virtual field trip series, as Mrs. Obama visits major Chinese cities, Beijing, Xi’an, and Chengdu—with included stops at a university and high schools. According to the White House press release, the First Lady will be accompanied by her mother, Mrs. Marian Robinson, and daughters, Malia and Sasha.
In the lead up to her travels, Mrs. Obama has posted on the official White House blog that a great emphasis behind her trip is offering students the chance to learn in an intercultural capacity with their peers on the other side of the world. Through a daily travel blog, the First Lady will share the stories of students she meets, along with facts about Chinese history and culture.
“I’ll be talking with students about their lives in China and telling them about America and the values and traditions we hold dear,” Mrs. Obama wrote in her opening China blog post . “I’ll be focusing in particular on the power and importance of education, both in my own life and in the lives of young people in both of our countries.”
“We look forward to sharing a view into the First Lady’s trip to China and sharing a glimpse into the life of an American teenager studying in China,” says Kinney. “This virtual field trip, and the ‘Of the People: Live from the White House’ series as a whole, is aimed at transporting young learners beyond the walls of their classrooms to explore the people, places, careers, and issues that inform and shape our world.”
To allow for a more immersive digital classroom experience, the First Lady has made a point of reaching out through various social media platforms, encouraging U.S. students and educators to keep up with her trip’s daily updates via her travel blog, as well as Twitter and Instagram .
Ending her thoughts on the upcoming trip, Mrs. Obama shared the driving force behind it with:
“I hope you’ll join me—all you have to do is get online.”
Sandy Chung is a former UN reporter on health sanitation and currently specializes in communications for architecture. Follow her on Twitter @sndychng.