Designing a Virtual Field Trip

By Lacina, Jan Guidry | Childhood Education, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

Designing a Virtual Field Trip


Lacina, Jan Guidry, Childhood Education


When I ask my preservice teachers to think back to their fondest memories of teaching social studies at the elementary or middle school level, they usually tell me about how teachers made history interesting and fun through hands-on activities. Most often, they reminisce about memories of field trips they took. When students visit historical sites, they are able to visualize what the daily life and work was like for people of the past (McEachron, 2001). Field trips enable students to connect history to their daily lives, and better understand the daily struggles and lives of people from the past. In our area of rural East Texas, students remember trips they made to Millard's Crossing, a renovated historical village, and the Hoya Library, a historic home where Sam Houston once visited.

For schools that are isolated from historical sites, however, taking a field trip may be impossible or too expensive. Virtual field trips offer a new way for teachers and students to visit historical sites and museums. "Virtual field trips are computer-generated environments that offer media-rich interactions with a particular location, such as laboratories, museums, parks, zoos, even other countries" (Stevenson, 2001, p. 1). Most notably, virtual field trips provide access to places that normally would be impossible for classrooms to visit, and this, in turn, provides a plethora of learning possibilities for the classroom.

Why should teachers consider creating a virtual field trip? Virtual field trips are an inexpensive way to integrate hands-on technology into the curricula while maintaining high student interest in the unit being studied. Virtual field trips offer a student-centered approach to instruction, and they diversify the teaching methods of content area instruction. Also, virtual instruction allows students to view people and places in a visually stimulating environment, which cannot be done through mere textbook reading.

For a traditional field trip, the teacher needs to do much planning and preparation (McEachron, 2001; Stevenson, 2001). Typically, teachers contact staff at the historical site and plan organized tours, prepare observational guides for the students, and connect the field trip to a particular unit of study. During the field trip, teachers ensure that students ask questions while monitoring students as they complete observation guides. After the field trip, teachers discuss the field trip and connect it to additional learning activities (McEachron, 2001).

The virtual field trip also requires planning and preparation, active participation, and follow-up learning activities (Stevenson, 2001). The steps below summarize the planning and preparation needed for a successful virtual trip (Lengel, 2003; Stevenson, 2001):

* Identify the curriculum: Refer to your state standards, in addition to the standards set forth by the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS). The Council's 10 themes for the teaching of social studies have been adopted nationally as the core of social studies instruction (www.ncss.org/standards). It is usually best to teach a concept that is difficult to study in the classroom or library. Choose a virtual field trip topic that can enhance your classroom instruction.

* Prepare for the trip: Clearly explain your purpose for taking a virtual field trip. Provide field trip activities that will challenge the students. Provide a clear guide through the field trip, including explanations, background information, and questions or steps to follow. Students seldom learn by aimlessly surfing through a Web site. The virtual field trip must be highly structured and easy to navigate.

* Prior to departing on a virtual field trip, provide students with background knowledge on the topic: Just as you would for a traditional field trip, familiarize students with key vocabulary; most important, ensure that students have an overall understanding of the topic. …

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