Parks Program Brings California’s Natural and Cultural Wonders to 1 Million Students and Counting
Dive into the deep sea off the Northern California coast, explore a forest of towering redwoods, or catch a glimpse of one of California’s largest land mammals, the tule elk. These are just a few of the interactive virtual field trips offered by the Parks Online Resources for Teachers and Students (PORTS®) program with California State Parks.
PORTS has been around since 2004, evolving from a green-screen operation to a comprehensive distance-learning program powered by Zoom, offering live field experiences, on-demand digital content, and blended learning opportunities — all at no cost to schools and students.
It took the PORTS program 15 years to reach half a million students and just two more years to double that number to 1 million students, with demand skyrocketing significantly during the pandemic. In 2020 alone, park staff delivered more than 5,000 interactive virtual field trip sessions to 250,000 students. For the 2021-22 school year, PORTS has already booked more than 5,300 sessions at state parks across California.
Expanding park programming
“The pandemic pushed us all into this new reality, and we were ready to react because of our relationship with Zoom and knowledge of how to utilize the tools. As a result of the pandemic, we went from around 12 state parks participating in this program to 40 or 50 now.”
Scaling reach with webinars
“[At the onset of the pandemic] we created home learning programs, which we put out like a broadcast TV channel with educational content. We were providing live, webinar-based programs up to six times a day, for up to 1,000 participants an hour. Now we’re calling them PORTScasts — broadcasts for PORTS, and we’re livestreaming them on YouTube or Facebook Live through Zoom Webinars.”
Enhancing park visits with blended learning
“We recognize that an in-person field trip is not always possible, but for those who are close enough, how can we actually get students engaged and get them to the parks? What we’re focused on now is blended access [through a program called passPORTS], which is providing digital experiences when possible as an enhancement for potential in-person experiences. So we’re having students get a live virtual experience prior to their visit — you can meet the staff virtually before you get on the bus, then you can meet the same person when you get off the bus.”
Always evolving to improve student engagement
“Our programs are intended to be interactive — we’re going to walk you through the redwoods, ask you questions to encourage responses, and we’re going to use interactive elements like polls, Kahoot, screen sharing, and immersive screen sharing. It’s a constant evolution. Our lesson learned is to stay current with what’s out there. We want to use the newest tools for student engagement.”
Rethinking access to parks
“People in our field have traditionally been analog first — ‘We need to get kids into parks.’ We’ve flipped the script and identified that using tools like Zoom allows for a virtual introduction to students. Then we can hopefully have an in-person field trip later, or we might not because they’re too far away, or the costs are too high. But we’re interacting with students and providing meaningful and relevant experiences.”
Check out our case study for even more creative ways PORTS uses Zoom to enhance access to California’s state parks.
Visit our customer stories page to learn about other educational institutions reimagining student connections with Zoom.