Recently, we shared the experience of one high school student (the daughter of ParentPaperwork founders, Fiona and David) for whom the opportunities presented by excursions and field trips were the most exciting part of being at school.
Time and time again, we hear these sentiments echoed, not only from students but also from educators who often have research or anecdotal evidence to support the view that immersing students in hands-on learning leads to greater retention of knowledge and other benefits. Still, field trips can be a bit of a sore point for some schools as another post of ours pointed out, where worries about liability and legal action has lead to them being banned in some extreme cases, an issue that even Hollywood has tried to tackle.
More commonly though, field trips and class excursions can be overlooked by schools trying to balance an already overloaded budget. Indeed, these trips can be pricey – and even logistically impossible if involving overseas travel – and putting the cost onto parents is fraught with problems of its own.
Enter a new solution, the virtual field trip.
With technology improving with each passing year, transporting a classroom of students to another place (whether it is in a different city, country or even planet) is now a real possibility.
Virtual field trips come in all shapes and sizes and, with so many options to choose from, it can be a daunting task for any teacher to find a starting point. But once you’ve tried out a few, you’ll soon find what fits best for your students and your curriculum, and you’ll discover the possibilities are almost endless.
Some virtual field trips may be a pre-recorded tour of a museum or sanctuary or island with interactive elements, information and activities that are available around the clock. Others can be live video streams with tour guides and real-time Q&As.
Each one is set up differently but all virtual field trips offer the same advantage to students – it can give them access to experiences that would otherwise not be available to them.
In the UK, Martin Crabbe, geography teacher at Glebe School in Bromley, has seen the power of virtual field trips in action and believes in their ability to engage students on a daily basis. Specifically, Crabbe’s students were involved in a global online project about water conservation. He said of the experience:
“The most engaging and satisfying teaching happens when students are transported beyond the four walls of the classroom and begin to make connections between their own experiences and the wider world.”
“I’m hoping that by the time we’ve finished, my pupils will have a real sense that water use is an issue in every country, not just the UK.”
Some popular virtual field trips include:
- American history from the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation;
- Arctic expeditions from PolarHusky.com;
- Tours of the Louvre in France;
- The Smithsonian National Museum of Modern History;
- The White House;
- NASA; and
- Mt Everest.
Many virtual field trips are hosted and organised by the centre or institute where the tour takes place but there are also many independent operators who create high quality field trips from around the world, which are accessible through a subscription.
FieldTripZoom and EducateVia360 both offer paid virtual field trips while Arizona State University hosts similar content free for users. Projects like Adventure ’15 aim to join classes from around the world into one interactive field trip adventure that takes place over a number of days at the end of each year. These projects are hugely popular and engage thousands of students from around the world in a rich learning environment.
Despite some of the more high-end virtual field trips charging for their services, the costs remain relatively low when compared to the administration fees, bus hire and admission costs of the real world equivalents.
With so many options available when it comes to virtually transporting a class to a different time or place, virtual field trips seem set to only become more popular and more intricate. For many schools, even those who are able to take students on real world adventures, the convenience, low cost and breadth of experience they can bring make them a worthwhile way to explore education.