Virtual Field Trips 101: Ultimate Guide for Teachers
COVID-19 has caused schools to close indefinitely. As a result, the most beloved public school activities like field trips have been halted, too. Fortunately, teachers have alternatives, such as virtual field trips (VFT).
Virtual field trips can never replace the awe you feel from seeing live animals and being in picturesque historical sites. There is just nothing like exploring new places with your students. However, with virtual field trips, you can still achieve your two most important goals: to educate and to entertain your students.
In this post, we created the ultimate guide about virtual field trips.
Table of Contents
What are virtual field trips?
VFTs are simply field trips on the world wide web. They can be interactive or non-interactive virtual experiences, and you can either do it solo or by a group. Through virtual field trips, participants can explore places they couldn’t visit and learn about their history or significance. These sites are prepared by scientists, developers, and educators.
The most basic form of VFTs is exploring web pages, where a thread of pictures or videos are embedded. The teacher can project the web pages or their content only onto a bigger screen via television or a projector screen. After that, he or she can proceed to discuss the key highlights or historical significance of each place to the students.
With the height of the technology we have now, VFTs can be more than just exploring web pages together and then discussing facts about the places. In fact, you can explore many admission-free VFTs on the web today—all in various platforms and types, on your own, or with a class.
Now, before we proceed to explore those, let’s first look at the young but rich history of virtual field trips.
History of virtual field trips: The pioneers
VFTs started way back in the mid-90s. LEARNZ or Linking Education and Antarctic Research in New Zealand has been supporting teachers and educating students about the Antarctic since 1995. LEARNZ’s field trips have curriculum links, dedicated websites for each field trip, and even quizzes.
Unsurprisingly, virtual field trips have grown popular as the internet aged. As a result, many VFTs in the early aughts became more accessible to students and teachers. Two of the admission-free VFT pioneers are the Pilbara or the NASA Macquarie University Pilbara Education Project and Arizona State University’s (ASU) Virtual Field Trips.
Pilbara by Nasa and Macquarie University
Pilbara’s VFT is about the exploration of stromatolites and their locations on Earth. The students can look around the area in a 360-degree view. They can also view videos where experts discuss the facts about the stromatolites. Unfortunately, the virtual tour isn’t being updated anymore.
Virtual Field Trips by ASU
Meanwhile, ASU’s VFTs offer a non-linear virtual experience. High school and college students can explore different iconic sites and even historic events on their website. For example, on their site, you can have a virtual tour of the Dinosaur Doom, the Oldest Multicellular Organisms, or the Panama Rainforest. This is the Grand Canyon iVFT, for example.
These VFT pioneers proved it early that online learning doesn’t only have to be two-way. Today, you can access many VFTs for free, which will help you exercise a brilliant learning technique such as the Discovery Learning Method.
Discovery Learning Method
Field trips are good activities for implementing the Discovery Learning Method (DLM), and virtual field trips are no different. If you’re aiming to conduct more VFTs in your lesson plans, you will be also practicing the DLM. Know what it means and why it’s beneficial for your class.
What is the Discovery Learning Method?
The DLM is an instructional design model introduced by Jerome Bruner in 1961. It motivates students to participate actively in acquiring knowledge instead of just receiving it. It’s based on the Constructivist Learning Theory, which means children learn by experiencing things and then reflecting on them.
Benefits of discovery-based learning
Students have to roam places once in a while, whether in actuality or in virtual spaces because they:
Become active participants.
Discovery-based learning doesn’t just talk about VFTs. To practice it, your students can also interview resource persons, make mini-documentaries, or even create other discovery activities themselves. Through this, they become creators and not just consumers.
Learn the concept of initiative.
Most discovery learning activities can be solo. During these solo activities, they can learn how to be effective in implementing their plans on their own. As a result, they won’t be too accustomed to asking permission all the time. They will learn to develop their ideas, systems, and processes. They learn about initiative.
Deal with failures effectively.
Discovery learning allows students to see that making mistakes is a necessary part of learning. That is because they are not focusing on achieving one end result but on the quality of their experience or a number of learnings during the activity. They won’t see their oversights and think they are incapable. As a result, they can learn how to deal with failures effectively.
Overall, the discovery learning method is a great component in building proactive and mentally tough students. That is why activities like virtual field trips should be a staple in your online classes. But if you’re still on the fence about VFTs, knowing the pros and cons might make you feel more confident with your decision.
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Pros and cons of virtual field trips
Virtual field trips are generally advantageous to students and teachers. However, its benefits are even more highlighted now that the pandemic has sent public school educators and pupils to their homes. Therefore, now is the right time to consider delving into virtual tours even more. Nevertheless, virtual field trips have a few drawbacks that are still worth your concern. Check out these pros and cons before you start.
Pros of virtual field trips
It can pique students’ interests conveniently.
Not all students are adventurous. Some students wouldn’t want to go out, hike in the mountains, and see live animals. Others might be just curious and eager to learn in any way. Through VFTs, you are presenting an opportunity to pique their curiosity in the most convenient way possible. Stimulating your students’ curiosity is good for their brains since you will be preparing their brains for learning.
You won’t need to rent transportation or chaperones.
Unlike actual field trips, you don’t have to rent transportation and hire chaperones for virtual tours. If you do have school buses or vans, you still have to spend on the gas. With VFTs, all you need are a good internet connection, a video-conferencing app with a share-screen feature, and your students’ participation.
Lesser worries about safety and security.
Schools have a ton to review when it comes to field trips. They have to review student travel policies and insurance coverage. Plus, they need to be wary of discipline. It’s possible that some students might misbehave in contact-sensitive areas like zoos or historic sites like museums. On the other hand, with VFTs, a handful of these types of worries will melt away like snow in the summer sun.
The learning process is more streamlined.
As the educator or the guide, you are more likely to be in control of the learning process in VFTs. Since you will prepare the schedule and the sites to explore, you’re more aware of what your students can learn. Expectations are more clear. Unlike actual field trips, students have more freedom to be selective. Some are only even on it just for the fun.
It’s easier to reschedule.
Several places may be admission-free, so you won’t pay cancelation fees. However, with actual field trips, students still have to block one to three days for the trip. Sudden reschedules will disappoint them and their parents, too. Now, with VFTs, canceling is not the end of it all. You could just resort to an individual VFT. They can explore the site on their own and they can just list down what they’ve learned later.
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Cons of virtual field trips
Nothing can replace the real thing.
The main benefit of actual field trips is the sensory experience. Students can hear, see, touch, smell and feel the subjects. They can roam around museums and admire the architecture. Meanwhile, in VFTs, all you can do is see the subjects. The sensory experience is reduced.
They are not very memorable.
Not many unforgettable experiences can occur in VFTs because the primary aim is to learn. Actual field trips are just different. While they are learning, your students can also bond with you and their friends. You can eat together, take pictures, and record videos. You will have the chance to make memories. These rarely happen in VFTs.
Not all students might get to participate.
This is especially true these times, where not all students have access to computers. Not all students who have access are knowledgeable about computers, as well. Now, you can always do the VFT together to make sure you are all experiencing the VFT similarly. Still, it will be pointless if they don’t have laptops or stable internet connections. Not all students can get to join in the fun.
These pros and cons only mean that no learning activity is perfect, even though it’s the most convenient and fun. That is why you should prepare thoroughly and consider your students’ needs, first.
12 virtual field trips you can do with your students
Have you decided to push your virtual field trips through? Great! Virtual field trips have come a long way since the text-heavy websites. Today, you can view 360-degree tours of places and events on YouTube or Google Earth. And that’s not even the half of it. Check out these virtual tours and interactive sites.
Aquarium Field Trip
Most aquariums and zoos are closed today. However, these interactive sites and VR tours will quench your curiosity about the aquatic universe here on Earth.
Monterey Bay Aquarium Live Cams
The Live Cams is a series of ten magnetic videos of marine creatures. The videos show jellyfish, corals, aviaries, penguins, sea otters, sharks, kelp forests, and more. They also have guided activities for those who are learning at home.
Great Barrier Reef
The site introduces you to an adventure to the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. You and your students can explore vivid photos, facts, interactive maps, and videos, all narrated by David Attenborough. It even has a page where it lets you see through the eyes of a Mantis Shrimp!
360 Shipwreck Diving
This 360 video on YouTube shows a wreck dive of the HMNZS Canterbury. Wreck dive sites like this one usually serve as artificial reef sites for marine life. In their dive, they explored the deck, engine room, halls, command room, bridge, hangar, and lifeboat davit.
Space Field Trip
4K 360-degree tour of 6 Real Exoplanets by We The Curious – Drag the video to the right or left to experience the VR tour!
Every class on this planet has that one kid who’s obsessed with space. Want to make him or her happy? Go on a virtual field trip using these sites!
6 Real Exoplanets 4K, 360° VR experience by We The Curious
We The Curious created a VR tour of 6 exoplanets or Earth-like planets beyond the solar system in the Milky Way Galaxy. The video is narrated by Astrophysicists from the University of Exeter. The video is better viewed in a VR headset, so the viewer can truly feel like they’re standing inside the planet.
Interactive Solar System Tour
This interactive 360 tour by The Nine Planets allows you to explore the planets, asteroids, comets, and galaxies. If you click on a planet, you can “visit” it, read facts, and read about its structure. All of the objects’ locations shown on the 3d map are also being updated in real-time.
NASA’s Exoplanet Excursions 360
This is a guided tour around the TRAPPIST-1 star system, which is a part of the Exoplanet Exploration program of NASA. The video discusses the Earth-like planets’ sizes, densities, and proximities to their stars. This will be a good introduction to exoplanets and how our future relates to them. You can also try Access Mars, a series of records by NASA’s Curiosity Rover.
World’s Natural Wonders Field Trip
Scroll down to explore the interactive panoramic image of the base camp!
Ever wished you could go on an expedition to Mt Everest, hike the rough terrains of The Grand Canyon, or witness the beauty of the Northern Lights? Worry no more. You and your students can instead view these 360 photos and videos of these World Wonders.
This is a 360-view of Mt Everest base camp in Nepal. Fun fact: this photo was taken before the climbers were aware of Google Map photos or Google Street View. At the moment, Nepal canceled Mt Everest expeditions due to COVID-19.
This breathtaking view of the Grand Canyon was captured using the Street View Trekker, a portable image-gathering apparatus. On this 360 view, you can see the terrain of the Grand Canyon’s south rim—as if you’re standing on the trail yourself. Kirk Johnson’s educational tour of The Grand Canyon is also a good alternative.
The Northern Lights
This is a series of VR tours in Abisko, Sweden by the Lights Over Lapland crew. In the videos, the most notable highlights are the real-time clips and timelapse of the Northern Lights. It’s a documented adventure that captures the awe-inducing world wonder.
Art and History Field Trip
These virtual tours will bring you to museums and exhibits with great significance.
The Dalí Theatre-museum
This is a virtual tour of the Salvador Dalí Theater-Museum. You can even measure everything on the tour. The VR tour has several highlights you can access just below the site such as the Vestibule, the Courtyard, the Cupola, the Treasure Room, the Mae West Room, and many more.
The Louvre is closed in the meantime, so they are offering virtual tours. The VR tours will allow you to explore the Advent of the Artist Exhibition, Egyptian Antiquities, Remains of the Louvre’s Moat, and the Galerie d’Apollon.
Smithsonian National Museum Of Natural History
The National Zoo and the SNMNH in Washington and New York have closed indefinitely. The good news is you can still explore virtual tours of their current exhibits, past exhibits, permanent exhibits, research centers, and other minor exhibits. The blue arrows and the 3d map on each virtual tour will guide you. They also have resources for educators and homeschoolers.
Aren’t these virtual reality tour sites magnificent? Sure, they may not be the real thing, but these sites allow you to marvel at places you’ve never been to. And now that most of these sites are closed temporarily, you can use VFTs to educate yourself and your students.
Can you create virtual field trips?
Yes, of course—you can start creating your very own virtual field trip now. However, it can take time, especially if you’re thorough. You can prepare an itinerary for your students, just like how you would on a real field trip. But you still need to gather the best resources and websites. Those can take time, which is not too ideal given the present situation.
Therefore, if you can find pre-curated virtual field trips, it’s best if you check those first before you create your own.
5 tips to follow when creating your own VFTs
There is no single formula for the right way of hosting VFTs for students. However, being organized and prepared will help you provide a more enjoyable experience for your students. Before you start building your virtual world, remember these tips.
1. List down your goals.
Remember that this VFT should also be a curricular trip as well. Don’t just login on a website and share your screen on Skype with your students. Check your course learning objectives. Plan your VFT around the objectives you need to accomplish during this semester. List the terms and concepts your students can learn in the VFT.
2. Create an itinerary.
Listed your objectives for this VFT? Good. It’s time to build an itinerary that helps you materialize those goals. Study.com has a detailed VFT itinerary template. However, it’s not free. You need to register to access this template. We still suggest you create your own template and just look at that template for inspiration.
3. Supply a script.
Together with your itinerary, you should also supply questions, brief facts, and narration to your VFT. You should write an outline or a visual roadmap with those contents. The template I shared above has some sample questions you can ask for every checkpoint.
4. Create a “virtual passport”.
Now, how do you grade your students for every question they answered on each checkpoint? You create a virtual passport! For each question or quiz they answer, they will earn a stamp. At the end of the “trip”, you can easily grade them through the number of stamps they earned.
5. Assess your trip.
This is an activity for you. Dictate your key highlights or describe your experience in an essay form. If this is your first time, your learnings from this activity will help you avoid mistakes in a VFT in the future. But, of course, you’ll do your best to provide a rich learning experience, right?
How to create virtual field trips
Now that you know the best tips when creating VFTs, it’s time to put things into action. If ever you decide to create your own virtual field trip, here are some tips on how to do it.
1. Upload 360° photos on Classflow.
Classflow is a free virtual classroom software. On the platform, you can upload 360° photos from Google. Just select any image on Google Maps and click “Share and Embed”. After that, you can paste the code on your student card on Classflow.
2. Create your own tour via Google Earth.
Already have an “itinerary” in mind? You can launch Google Earth and type in any place you would like to explore. On the site, you can even create special projects. For instance, you can make a “World of Pyramids” project. If you click on the Pyramids of Giza, Google Earth will provide you with specifications, brief descriptions, photos, links, and other points of interest.
3. Sign up for Nearpod Virtual Reality (VR).
Nearpod is an LMS that has dynamic media and assessment tools. Notably, they offer engaging Nearpod VR field trips, which you and your students can access on any device. You can explore the Great Wall of China, Ivy League universities, and the Pyramids of Giza. They also offer over 450 VR lessons.
Virtual field trips will not only satisfy your students’ curiosity. This is also an opportunity to pique their interest in learning about technology. Who knows? An accomplished software engineer might thank you in the future for introducing him/her to the wonders of tech.
Any kind of learning activity will be rewarding as long as you think about your students’ best interests.
How are virtual field trips helpful in education?
Virtual Field Trips can improve your online lessons because they are accessible, convenient, and interactive. This establishes that learning doesn’t have to be a from-teacher-to-students setup all the time. Using virtual tools can also pique student interest in content and technology.
How do I get a Google Expedition?
First, you have to get the Google Expedition kit or make your own, as per Google. In the US, you can buy AR-VR or VR kits from Best Buy Education, Aquila Education, Office Depot, Synnex, Tierney, and Troxell. After that, you can set up your network, download tours, and do group or solo tours.
Want to explore more virtual tours?
All Digital School has a rich compilation of links to virtual tours and activities.
You can also create an account using Facebook or Google buttons below:
Know other virtual tours? Comment them below!
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