Virtual Field Trips, Something Missing

Think back to your elementary school days. Did you take any field trips? What stands out in your mind? I have memories of the symphony orchestra in Pittsburgh. I was in 3rd grade. We had to dress up. We had to ride a bus downtown. The hall was enormous and full of students. It seemed like a grown up thing to do. We had to be on our best behavior. I enjoyed the sounds, the view from our seats and the bubbling nervous energy that comes from thousands of kids trying to behave.

mscstandAll clip art in Discovery Education’s Clip Art Gallery created by Mark A. Hicks, illustrator.

What did I learn? Before the trip we listened to music and learned about the different instruments. I don’t know if there was any follow up but I’m sure I didn’t take notes during the performance. Looking back I didn’t enjoy the symphony as much as I did the trip. I enjoyed the anticipation, the bus ride, the throngs of students from other schools as we filed into the hall. The instruments made some funny squeaking, trumpeting sounds and then a hush as darkness filled the space and the conductor tool up his baton. I felt immersed in something bigger than myself.

What would a virtual version of this trip look like? Perhaps it would be as simple as watching a movie of a symphony performance but would that make it virtually the same? What would it take to replicate the sights, sounds and anticipation of real physical travel? Where do the real benefits of field trips come from? Are they worth it?

Students aren’t the only ones disappointed by budget cuts that have eliminated field trips. Parents are concerned and teachers are wondering how to bring the outside into the classroom to provide a more enriching academic experience. Enter a mainstream trend toward virtual field trips. So what exactly constitutes a virtual field trip? Here are two from my ‘define: virtual field trip’ search:

Definitions of virtual field trip on the Web:

* A virtual field trip is a guided exploration through the Web that organizes a collection of pre-screened, thematically based web pages into a …

* Can be online or via videoconferencing. If online, the class uses a web site created by the instructor to “visit” a setting by viewing …

The Utah Education Network offers a portal to their own brand of virtual field trip and a way to create your own trips.

It makes me wonder. What is the difference between a virtual field trip and a Wequest? Is it simply the name? I initiated a search (a virtual field trip on-the-fly) to generate a collection of resources for teachers. To my surprise, I discovered that virtual field trips were in most cases nothing more than reformatted Webquests and isn’t a Webquest just a web-based, turn-key research assignment? Where is the adventure? Where is the anticipation? Where is the learning?

Definitions of webquest on the Web:

* A WebQuest is a learning activity used by educators. During this activity learners read, analyze, and synthesize information using the World Wide …
* webquests – These are web pages or web sites, which have a specific educational objective. Usually created by teachers and educators, webquests consist of …

I think Webquests can be very useful employing much of what we teachers call discovery based learning. The trouble is that REAL field trips take the whole class out of the building to provide a collaborative, interactive, new experiences. I don’t really see the parallels between virtual and real field trips. I do see a parallel between going to the Media Center with a topic, a checklist of resources and a list of facts to collect.

In a real field trip students rely on their observations to absorb the benefits. There is a palpable feeling of excitement. Most of the time paper pencil activity stay at school and upon they return to the classroom students ca reflect on their experiences. defines ‘field trip’ like this:

Some best practices used in planning traditional off campus trip could be used in constructing enjoyable, education and experiential learning models for children in a school based setting. How can this be achieved? Let’s take a look at several key components of traditional field trips to see how they might be modified for Virtual Field Trips.

    Define the standards addressed on the trip and describe how the activities planned will be used to meet the objectives.
    Plan pre-field trip activities to reinforce lessons learned and to set student expectations.
    Plan post-field trip activities to allow for sharing and reflection, reinforcing lessons and clarifying misconceptions.
    Collect and pack materials needed for trip, such as magnifying glasses, clip boards, extra pencils, crayons, and thermometers etc.

If you read each of the criteria listed and say, “This is what I do for my Webquests.” I ask you; do you really bring thermometers and magnifying glasses, paper bags to collect samples and do the kids get to ride on a bus or eat a sack lunch in a picnic area? If so, you may be onto something. Virtual means imitated or simulated. Virtual Field Trips should mirror the experiences of real life and not simply extend student experience via online self paced interactions. Should virtual field trips require parent chaperones and permission slips?

Do you have any success stories to share? Have you been able to replicate a real field trip experience in virtual form? Please share any links, thoughts or suggestions you have. If you need a good starting point to launch your own investigation try this tried and true teacher destination:

Internet 4 Classrooms, a tremendous repository of everything web for education also has an extensive list of virtual field trip resources.

I would also like to point you to a post by Silvia Tolisano exploring ways to make real field trips more meaningful by incorporating technology to capture the essence of new experiences.


One Response to “Virtual Field Trips, Something Missing”

  1. Langwitches » links for 2008-12-22 Says:

    […] Comments Virtual Field Trips, Something Missing « rippling pond on Fieldtrips- An Elementary School FavoritePat on Baking Bread- Intgrating TechnologyLangwitches […]

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