Road project ramps up virtual learning

(Last Updated On: June 17, 2015)

This August, a virtual field trip will let students experience how engineers and workers build giant ramps over a busy motorway as part of a major infrastructure project. Wayne Erb looks into the potential for classroom learning.

Cars and trucks move along a motorway beneath the wide concrete ramp we walk along, our senses alert and hard hats firmly in place. Above, even higher, looms Dennis – the latest machine marvel at Waterview – a bright yellow ‘self-launching gantry’, which uses strength and precision to lower giant concrete beams into place on four ramps leading to and from twin motorway tunnels nearby.

It is easy to see how the Waterview Connection earns the title of ‘largest and most complex roading construction project ever undertaken in New Zealand’. A virtual field trip supported by the NZ Transport Agency will let students experience the construction closer than they would be permitted in person. This includes video interviews to unpick the project complexity and audio-conferences where students pose their own questions.

Longest road tunnel

The focus in August will be on engineers working at the northern end of the project, and the role of Dennis in building a massive interchange between two motorway systems. Likely topics are bridge building, safety high above a live motorway, and community connections, plus an update on turning around Alice the Tunnel Boring Machine, now digging the second tunnel.

The Waterview Connection is a motorway section in west/central Auckland, connecting State Highways 16 and 20. The link totals 4.8 km of six lane motorway, half of which will be underground. Once open, this will be the country’s longest road tunnel and is expected to carry 83,000 cars a day by 2026.

Jocelyn Shaw, communications and stakeholder manager, says children are important stakeholders.

“We hope that by letting everyone see how a project like this gets started and built, it will excite and encourage students into the many amazing careers that projects like this offer, and let them feel part of what will become an iconic place in New Zealand.”

Tunnels focus of last year’s trip

Alice was the star of the first Waterview virtual field trip last year. All videos and background resources remain online. Teachers reported a high level of student engagement first time round. It led to excellent discussions in one class, allowed students in another to look deeper at the project. Students in one school were motivated to visit the field trip website at home, and curate ideas to support their learning in class.

“Related closely to our transport topic for the term, which had a technology focus. High levels of student engagement in this topic, very interesting,” wrote teacher Louise Parker from Twyford School, near Hastings. A Christchurch class, experiencing a city-wide rebuild closer to home, found the planning and building of infrastructure was “an authentic context for learning”.

Smart motorways

Also coming up in August is a virtual field trip to learn about New Zealand’s first smart motorway – on a three kilometre section of highway between Ngauranga and Aotea Quay, in Wellington.

“School students can meet the experts making New Zealand’s first smart motorway. This will reduce congestion by carefully controlling the flow of vehicles. As the volume of traffic increases, the smart motorway automatically adjusts the speed limit to reduce congestion. The aim is to help drivers get to where they’re going safely, more quickly and with less stress,” says the website.

The evolution of virtual trips

LEARNZ project director Pete Sommerville believes context and curriculum drive the process behind how his team plans virtual field trips. Changes are afoot, as they tweak the design of field trips to help teachers better create and measure deep understanding.

Pete says this has led to the adoption of SOLO taxonomy as a model of learning.

“The next step is to modify the field trip experience itself to model what surface understanding looks like compared to deep and conceptual understanding. The LEARNZ team are working to explicitly embed SOLO thinking in diverse ways across components of the field trip, such as videos, diaries and background readings, to help users understand where they are at with their learning.”  

Wayne Erb is a freelance writer.

NZTA_website-screenhotField trip dates

Waterview Connection: Starts 4 August

Smart Motorways: Starts 25 August

For more information about virtual field trips go to


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