School field trips are an amazing opportunity to make learning authentic and to motivate and engage students in their learning. They offer a break from the normal routine and instructional strategies that occur in the classroom and they expose students to new experiences and appeal to all styles of learning – visual, auditory and kinesthetic. Field trips expand children's learning and increase student knowledge and understanding of a subject by adding realism to the topic of study.
Thus, field trips lead to better understanding and greater achievement due to the students’ observation of real-life application of their lessons.
That said, there are some disadvantages to planning field trips for a class, some of which are listed below:
- Cost – to students, to school, of buses
- Inclement weather
- Parent concerns
- Availability of supervisors
- Extra preparation and organization is required
- Accessibility for all students
Virtual field trips (VFTs) use the Internet to take your class on a field trip via an online guided exploration i.e. a virtual online tour. There are many VFTs that are available online and these range from basic websites that contain text-based information to detailed floor plans with video tours. After browsing some of the VFTs available online, I definitely see myself using this in my junior and secondary classes.
To prepare for your VFT, you should ensure that it is directly related to the subject matter being covered in class. Teach an introductory lesson that covers the basics of the subject matter covered in the VFT, book the computer lab for the VFT and ask students to bring earphones. Another fun idea (for junior students) is to send home a “permission form” for the VFT in order to advise parents about it and provide them the opportunity to discuss the VFT with their child.
On the day of your VFT, first show the VFT site to the entire class using a projector and show them how to navigate the site. Remind them of the expected behaviour (ie. no surfing other sites!), point out “must sees” and demonstrate how to explore the VFT site. Lastly, provide the students with guided questions to answer throughout their VFT in order to ensure their learning.
At this point, have the students navigate to the VFT site and explore it. I believe that students would enjoy doing this activity in pairs and I would expect one set of answers from each pair. Give your students the option of typing their answers on the computer (in Word or a Google document) or writing them out.
The experience of a VFT is an under-used one and can be used to “visit” places that would not be possible on a regular field trip. After researching VFTs online, I have listed some great ones below.
Some Virtual Field Trip Destinations:
After taking your students on some VFTs, why not challenge your students to create their own VFT? Take the time to explain your expectations and model the platform you want your students to use. Create a simple VFT in real time in class and show the students how this can be done. In simplest form, this could be a PowerPoint presentation or a LiveBinder that includes links, videos and photos. In more complicated form, this could involve using online tools to create a VFT.
Challenging your students to create their own VFT is an amazing, rewarding project that would allow them to present researched information in a fun, creative product that is novel and engaging. Once done, post the student-created VFTs on the class website, encourage classmates to attend their peers’ VFTs and evaluate them. Alternatively, take a little time each day to showcase a VFT using a SmartBoard in the class. This performance task would be allow for differentiated instruction and cater to all learners who would be able to make their VFT as simple or as complicated as they wish, according to their learning needs.
I believe that Virtual Field Trips will enrich the learning of all students and engage them in student-centred learning, allowing them to actively construct their own knowledge. The next time you are planning a unit/cycle of study, try to integrate a VFT – your students will thank you for it!