Virtual Field Trips Rise in Popularity: How Educators Can Host Their Own

Melissa Miller
A small group of fearless fifth graders are sent to outer space to help NASA locate and rescue a lost spaceship orbiting one of the universe’s revolving planets. It’s a dangerous mission, but these young children are NASA’s only hope.
Collectively each team of astronauts, along with their trusty “specialists,” must put their heads together to decode messages, plot coordinates, and predict resources needed to survive and complete the mission in space—otherwise the lost spaceship (and its human cargo) will be lost forever.
If this scenario sounds too outrageous to be true, that’s because it is— it’s merely one of the many interactive “e-missions” designed by the Challenger Learning Center at Wheeling Jesuit University.
Virtual field trips, like the “Moon, Mars, and Beyond” e-mission described above, are really starting to become very popular choice in many school districts— especially in urban areas with shrinking school budgets and rural areas where museums and space centers aren’t as easily accessible.
Virtual fields can be just as exciting as live-action field trips since students can immerse themselves in a unique environment. But since students don’t have to leave the classroom it’s a more cost effective and eco-friendly educational tool. Not to mention it uses the simplicity of A/V technology.
Some virtual field trips are free, others require a fee. Either case, incorporating a virtual field trip (or two) into this year’s curriculum can be a really fun and engaging way to get your students more involved and show them a new world of possibilities. While the Challenger Learning Center at Wheeling Jesuit University is a great place to start, other good sources for virtual tours include the Global Nomads Group which helps teachers facilitate videoconferences with other classrooms around the globe and the VC Content Provider Database which offers virtual tours of various zoos and museums.
That said, while virtual field trips on their own are a spectacle, it’s always important to go one step further and utilize the other tech resources around you to supplement the lesson plan and help students retain the information. For example, instructors can help create a private Facebook page, blog, or a Twitter account that exclusively focuses on what was learned. Instructors can post engaging questions or award “discussion” points for students who bring up good questions or observations. Traditional power points that address key points learned from the virtual field trip can be just as useful as well. The possibilities are endless. Just use your creativity.

Melissa Miller is a blogger and freelance education reporter. Bewildered by the proliferation of or digital learning in general? Melissa can help break it down for you. Send any feedback to [email protected].
Photo courtesy of BigStock.

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