Colonial Williamsburg wows students with online and televised 'field trips'

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WILLIAMSBURG Surrounded by a dozen TV screens and five assistants in a darkened control room, producer Linda Randulfe keeps up a steady patter of commands.

"This goes to Jay. Coming up on four minutes," she says. And later, "Prompter's going to be next. Standby to roll tape."

In a neighboring studio, three actors in 18th-century garb field a stream of questions from students who have tuned in. They're helped by a Colonial Williamsburg historian, Jay Gaynor, and two teenage anchors for the program.

Facing floodlights and four TV cameras, the group of six sits in a semicircle on a set decorated with wood paneling and patterned rugs. A similar scene plays out once each month during the school year, as Colonial Williamsburg produces its popular "electronic field trips."

The electronic field trips, which began about 10 years ago, are typically viewed by students in fourth through eighth grades. In the 2004-05 school year, about 1,600 schools or school systems across the country registered for the program, said Richard J. McCluney Jr., Colonial Williamsburg's vice president for productions, publications and learning ventures.

For December, the trip was called "The Industrious Tradesmen." At schools across the country, students watched three dramatic segments taped during the summer that told the story of a silversmith, a tailor and a carpenter. After each segment, they e-mailed or called in their questions.

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