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[Teacher Tips] Expand Your Students’ Horizons with Virtual Field Trips

Monday, October 23, 2017 -- Lisa Bliss

As a teacher, one of my most difficult tasks is preparing my students for the outside world while spending most days confined to the classroom. I can spend hundreds of dollars on classroom décor and come up with elaborate projects to duplicate real-world experiences within our four walls, but at the end of the day, it’s never going to be the same.  

Since my district became a 1:1 iPad school, though, I’ve found a new option to introduce my students to more authentic experiences—virtual field trips. No, I cannot introduce my high school Spanish students to native Chileans for a friendly chat or offer them a firsthand look at Barcelona’s architecture, but I can provide them with a more hands-on, interactive experience with Spanish-speaking cultures thanks to technology. And, no matter what age or subject you teach, you can give your students similar experiences with just a little planning. Here are a few common questions, along with resources to get you started.

What is a virtual field trip?

A virtual field trip is an opportunity for students to participate in the exploration of a location through the means of the Internet. It is much like a traditional field trip but without the long bus ride or nagging fear of losing anyone. Whether it’s a city, historic site, museum, or natural area, students may experience different aspects of the location through photos, digital maps, audio, video, and other interactive media, receiving  detailed information about what they are hearing or seeing in the process. Virtual field trips are often organized by an educator or supervisor with predetermined Internet destinations and sites to guide the exploration in a structured way.

Why implement virtual field trips?

Virtual field trips can have a positive effect on schools in many ways. Although there will never be a complete substitute for experiencing a place or culture firsthand, virtual field trips still enable students to explore parts of the world they may otherwise never have the opportunity to visit in a manner that allows them to retain some aspect of hands-on interaction.

What are the benefits of leading a virtual field trip?

If you can’t tell yet, I’m a big fan of virtual field trips. Here are my top four reasons why: 

1. They’re free! Many traditional field trips require students to pay a fee in order to participate—and for lots of families, this is a financial burden that keeps their child from joining. It would cost thousands of dollars for me to take just one student to a Spanish-speaking country. Virtual field trips remove this expense but still allow for learning that broadens students’ horizons beyond standard classroom lessons.

2. Once you create a virtual field trip, you can use it for years. Planning a successful traditional field trip is, at best, a time-consuming task for educators and other adult supervisors and, at worst, a downright logistical nightmare. With all of the extra work of collecting permission slips and money, coordinating activities, and arranging transportation, all too often, it’s simply not worth it to plan a standard field trip at all. Virtual options remove these logistical challenges.

3. No liability issues! With virtual field trips, you are able to maintain the structure of your classroom environment. While it is usually easy to get students excited for a traditional field trip, it is more difficult to monitor their behavior and their whereabouts during the outing. Planning a virtual field trip instead helps you avoid this free-for-all mentality.

4. You have more control over the content. Virtual field trips can be designed and tailored to complete very specific learning objectives, and they can easily be adjusted year to year if those objectives change. You can even provide different students with slightly different experiences, giving you another tool to meet students’ unique needs and personalize their learning.

Where should I go for resources to get started?

I’m far from the first educator to jump on this virtual field trip bandwagon—which means that there are lots of resources already out there for planning and inspiration! Here are a few of my favorite sites.

For tools to help you get started:

  • Eduscapes – This site offers helpful hints and tips on what to include to make virtual field trips work in your class, how to go about designing trips, and how to prepare yourself to lead your students.
  • Wix – This is a user-friendly platform to help you easily create your own website (do it yourself or use one of their templates) in order to effectively store and organize resources for your virtual field trip.
  • The Surfaquarium: Virtual Field Trip Guidelines – These guidelines contain suggestions, implementation tips, and dos and don’ts to help you get up and running in your classroom.

For specific virtual field trip examples to inspire you:

  • EDSITEment!: In Old Pompeii – In this lesson, students take a virtual field trip to the ruins of Pompeii to learn about everyday life, art, and culture in ancient Roman society.
  • John Muir Exhibit – This exhibit, created by the Sierra Club, offers a concise story of its founder’s life, naturalist and conservationist writings, and legacy. It includes sounds, video, and text resources.
  • The JASON Project – This many-faceted site’s mission is “to inspire and educate students everywhere through real science and exploration.” It offers several different STEM-centered trips, including one that follows a crew living aboard the International Space Station.
  • Reach the World – This site features different global digital-exchange journeys where classrooms can follow a traveler who is studying, exploring or serving abroad. You'll find separate centers for teachers and students.
  • PolarHusky.com – This site chronicles adventure learning expeditions using sled dogs paired with Arctic research to explore natural and social sciences.

For additional pre-created collections to work from:

Want to see how I use virtual field trips in my classroom? Take a look at this lesson plan and student guide for a virtual field trip to Spain that I created! And, for more clever strategies to make the most of the technology in your classroom, check out these 21 Tips, Tricks, and Ideas Every 21st Century Teacher Should Try!     

 

*These opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Independent School District 192.