The Virtual Field Trip Experience: part one

Our recent article on the rise of the virtual field trip helped introduce the concept of an educational excursion experience when it’s not possible to physically get there, either due to budgetary or logistical restrictions.

With field trips being a favourite of students everywhere, the ability to take time out from the usual lesson plans to introduce students to new places and experience exciting things from the comfort and familiarity of the classroom has big potential to revolutionise the field trip experience.

So, the question remains, what are virtual field trip experiences like and which ones are right for your classroom? We’ve looked at three different field trips available online to share with you exactly what you can expect.

Screen Shot-The Louvre

Want to peruse renaissance art, Egyptian treasures or the world famous Galerie d’Apollon in the heart of Paris? The Louvre provides the world with a free online virtual tour of sections of its gallery.

The Good
The tour is easy to access on almost any computer system. Move from room to room and experience a 360-degree view of the collection with information about each room’s history, as well as the ability to select works of arts to enjoy a close-up view and detailed information. The tour offers a real feel for the space and includes the underground section with original walls of the keep and moat from the Louvre’s days as a fortress in the 12th century (a little trivia of which students may not be aware).

The Bad
The collection featured is limited to three rooms and not all works of art have close-ups and information available; the biggest disappointment being that one of the most famous works, the Mona Lisa, is not included – purchase an airfare for that one.

Supporting Material
None, you’ll need to put together your own lesson plan.


America’s history comes to life thanks to the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, the world’s largest living history museum in Williamsburg, Virginia – home of the American Revolution. The 301-acre historic area features restored, reconstructed and historically furnished buildings populated with costumed interpreters. A lot of work has gone into creating this educational space and their online component is no different. Their ‘Electronic Field Trips‘ are interactive in every sense of the world, allowing students to participate in a retelling of the story of America.

The Good
A lot. The whole website is a trove of information that doesn’t shy away from some of the harsher truths of the era. Its virtual field trip component is top-notch. Streamed live, the field trip features a pre-recorded story. Whether it is in drama, documentary or game show format, this section is followed by a live Q&A segment where students call, tweet or send in their questions, and then characters or historians answer these questions live. The themes change from one field trip to the next and cover a many different disciplines including history, science and even maths.

The Bad
Although the live streams are free, they’re based in the US, meaning schools in other countries may have trouble participating live. The trips meet US curriculum standards but could be adapted to meet the needs of other countries. To access the catalogue of previous field trips and associated resources, a subscription is required.

Supporting materials
Resources for all broadcasts, including live streams, are only provided to those subscribed to the History Education Resources Online system (HERO). These resources include games, activities, resources, lesson plans, glossaries and overviews that teachers can use with students.

Screen Shot-NASA

We might be a few years off going to Mars yet but NASA’s Ames Research Centre have provided some fun and educational virtual field trip experiences that allow students to explore areas on earth that are being studied due to their likeness to the red planet. The Ames Research Centre site also features similar programs that explore the solar system and mathematics.

The Good
This downloadable application takes students to a surface view of a survey site with a 360-degree panorama with which students can interact. The program allows students to select objects and scientists around the site, and learn why the site was chosen and how it matches up to the surface of Mars. The software is free, features videos and multimedia resources.

The Bad
The software needs to be downloaded and is quite large (1GB). Currently, there is only one ‘field trip’ and two related educational programs with plans to expand the collection in the future.

Supporting Materials
None for the Mars field trip, but the two other programs come with full lesson plans.

These largely area-specific resources market themselves as virtual field trips but offer three very different experiences for students and teachers, highlighting how flexible the notion of the virtual field trip experience can be. Each trip has its advantages and disadvantages and are worth exploring, if only to identify what will work best in your learning environment.

Next time, we will look at another set of virtual field trips which offer broader, more flexible experiences for users… Stay tuned…

ParentPaperwork advocates actual field trips and excursions, rather than virtual ones, whenever feasible. Our platform makes organising permissions for excursions and field trips easy.

School excursions are the favourite part of being at school for this high school student

Clea Boyd-Eedle is 17 years old and in her final year of high school, she’s also the eldest daughter of ParentPaperwork’s founders David and Fiona, and we asked her for some thoughts about school excursions from the point of view of a student.

Being in my final year of high school, I now am able to truly reflect on my schooling career. There have been many great memories associated with both primary and high school. Although it is important to learn traditionally in a classroom environment, I can tell you there is nothing better than an excursion day, where we learn hands-on, bond with fellow classmates and explore our curriculum in real-life situations. Excursions have definitely been my utmost favourite part of being in school, and I reckon that most students would agree.

Biology becomes so much more enjoyable when you venture to the zoo and meet all the animals you’ve been studying. Exploring the city on an adventure race and utilising what you’ve learnt about public transport creates great travelling skills. And how about indulging in fine French foods and ordering using newly learnt phrases, such as “Je voudrais un sandwich de poulet? et un chocolate chaud si’l vous plaît?” Ordering a chicken sandwich and a hot chocolate was never more exciting or fulfilling.

As the workload piles on in our later years, the memories of past excursions grow fonder. My favourite excursion aspect of high school was definitely our schools CUE program, where each second week of year 9, classes would spend the day together using personal skills and learnt knowledge to explore life out of school. CUE was comprised of three areas, community (C), urban (U) and environment (E).

Community placed 2-3 students in different working environments, for example, I worked at a local school for disabled kids where I was lucky enough to spend time with my younger sister and her school friends. Other students worked at immigration centres, elderly care homes and kindergartens.

Urban saw classes visit mosques, explore the city and visit some of Melbourne’s most iconic buildings. In environment we cleaned up Portsea beaches and discovered where exactly our waste ended up, whilst also learning how to solve current environmental issues.

My favourite part of CUE was easily the Big Experience trip at the end of the program, where I spent 3 weeks in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia building a home for a rural community, bartering in markets and really opening my eyes to the real world.

Each year schools organise a multitude of excursions, and it is often that you will see scores of buses lining the front of the school in preparation for an exciting day of learning outside the classroom. Excursions, although an important aspect of schooling life, require a great deal of planning and organisation to ensure that the utmost safety and care is taken for each and every student.

My parents seem to have to handle an everlasting stream of paperwork  – no wonder they came up with the idea for ParentPaperwork.

I won’t lie, even as a fairly organised student, over the years I’ve definitely misplaced my fair few of excursion forms, and now I’ve had a chance to see what Mum and Dad are doing, it makes complete sense to me that schools should give ParentPaperwork a try!