Perspective from the Field: What is the value of virtual field trips?

Instructional Strategies: 
Interacting With Peers
Understanding Problems
Visual Representations
Supporting Science

Neil Schiavo is a Research Associate at Education Development Center, Inc. He has over 10 years experience developing materials to support the professional learning of teachers and administrators around the country. He has been involved in the design of the Success at the Core modules for leadership teams, the National Science Foundation Knowledge Management and Dissemination website, and the Nellie Mae Education Foundation Building New Models initiative. His interest is in implementing and sustaining programs that create sensible ways for teachers to collaborate and learn together to strengthen classroom instruction.

Over time, I’ve found that few experiences can evoke the range of emotions in teachers as those brought on by planning and leading class field trips. Teachers are excited by the opportunity to engage and energize their students, but also feel anxious around the break from productive routines, securing funds, and the need to rely on others for a smooth day. I returned to these feelings when reading a recent article in Education Next, written about a study on student learning and field trips. The study found positive impacts on student learning for students who participated in a field trip to an art museum compared to students who did not.

Unexamined in the study, though, were the effects of virtual field trips (VFTs). VFTs may potentially deliver the benefits of actual field trips while reducing the challenges teachers face with scheduling, funds, and transportation. Skilled teachers can incorporate VFTs into the use of evidence-based instructional practices highlighted on PowerUp What Works. For example, a VFT can allow teachers to go beyond text-based descriptions of content and use images and audio as a way to differentiate instruction for all students in the class.

There are many online resources available to help organize VFTs in different content areas. The Scholastic website provides a number of VFT-related resources that align with the evidence-based instructional strategies highlighted on PowerUp in math and ELA. Also, many museums offer virtual tours of exhibits that allow students to view dinosaur fossils (through the website of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History), art work and historical artifacts (the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art), and science. Teachers can arrange to speak directly with scientists, historians, and other experts in the field through Skype or email.

When VFTs become a regular feature of instruction, the lines between the classroom walls and the outside world begin to blur. The use of the VFTs provide students and teachers an easy way to interact with places and people outside the school- without risking that one of your four buses is running twenty minutes late.

Looking for more resources on Virtual Field Trips? Check out our collection of ideas on Pinterest

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