You no longer have to leave home for a tour of the ISRIC World Soil Museum as the museum is now also offering Skype tours. A class of Vietnamese schoolchildren recently set the ball rolling.
(Photo: Concordia International School)
The entire collection of the museum on Wageningen campus has been accessible online (at wsm.isric.org) for some time. But you still had to actually come to Wageningen for a proper guided tour by the museum director, Stephan Mantel. Now you can spare yourself the effort of that journey. ‘The idea of doing online guided tours had been around for a while,’ says Mantel. ‘But we just never got round to it.’
Until they received a request from the Concordia International School in Hanoi, Vietnam. ‘A class was working on a science project about soil and the teacher asked whether the children could get a remote tour. That was a nice opportunity to play around with the technology.’
Mantel’s daughter recommended using a smartphone with a selfie stick. That turned out to be the perfect solution. ‘It lets me walk freely around the museum and show all kinds of things, just like in a normal guided tour. For example, I can get details of the soils magnified on the screen for the class to see, such as plant roots or a layer of ash from a volcanic eruption.’ Mantel got the exact degree of interaction he was looking for by switching between the standard camera setting and the selfie setting.
On a Friday afternoon – Vietnamese time – Mantel took a group of 10-year-olds in a classroom 8862 kilometres away on his first Skype tour. Afterwards, the schoolchildren were able to ask questions via a laptop. ‘For example, they asked how many layers does soil consist of, how do you make one of those soil profiles on the wall and is garbage harmful for the soil?’
Mantel wants the virtual guided tours to be a standard option. For a fee of course, because live guided tours cost money too. The soil museum currently has between 2200 and 2600 visitors a year.