How To Choose the Right Virtual Field Trip
By: Dale Petersen, M.Ed.
So you want to take your students on a trip somewhere. You’ve already established that a virtual field trip is the way to go for a myriad of reasons. However, the potential reach of virtual field trips (VFTs) knows no bounds. You can take your students to any time or place. As appealing as this sounds, how can you then decide where you should go? Even more, how can you decide whether that particular field trip is right for your group of students? In other words, what would make your virtual field trip both successful and worthwhile?
There are three dimensions to consider as you evaluate one VFT over another. First and foremost are your objectives – curricular, educational, or otherwise. It is not a valuable use of everyone’s time unless it meets the goals you have set out. This may relate directly to specific standards or outcomes, or it may be related to supplemental or even entertainment value. Being mindful of your expectations will help to evaluate the many choices you have available.
The second consideration is to ensure that there is enough visual interest to make sure that students are engaged and will view the exercise as a field trip, and not just another assignment. Some virtual field trips are a grouping of web pages students visit and use to compile information. In order to be considered more of a virtual field trip and less of an online assignment, there should be a large degree of visual content. An actual field trip would be largely visual, and this requirement should not be much less for a virtual field trip.
The last dimension to be considered is that the accompanying narrative is comprehensible to the student audience. Field trips usually have a visual and an auditory component. In the same way that there needs to be a strong visual presence to a virtual field trip, the auditory component should also be present, and should be suited to the audience. To make a comparison, if a tour guide were taking your students around a museum the dialogue would sound very different for a group of first-graders than for a group of tenth-graders.
You may have other specific elements that are a requirement for you, however, as a starting point you can’t go too far wrong by using these considerations as guidelines in your choice of virtual field trips.
Mandel, S. (2002). Cybertrips in social studies: Online field trips for all ages. Tucson, AZ: Zephyr Press.