How to Increase Student Interest by Using Virtual Field Trips in the Classroom

old green school bus on a mountain road; blue banner across bottom that reads how to increase student interest by using virtual field trips in the classroom

I’m a traveler. I love exploring new places, trying new food, learning history, soaking in the local culture. I’ve had the amazing opportunity to take students along on some of these adventures. But, unfortunately, that’s not always possible. Virtual field trips to the rescue. 

The last few years have seen a rise in the popularity of these interactive, online trips. Not only have they replaced standard in-person trips, they’ve opened up a whole new world of possibilities. Studying the Incas, but can’t swing a trip to Peru? Virtual field trip to Machu Picchu. Climb the Great Wall of China (which, if you ever have a chance to do in real life, take it. It’s incredible). Tour NASA. The possibilities are endless. 

Why Use Virtual Field trips in the clasroom

Engagement

One of the biggest issues we face today is engagement. Students are so accustomed to being constantly stimulated with images, videos, and music that they struggle with the old “sit and get” method (see these posts on QR codes and escape rooms for more ideas on engaging students). Virtual field trips allow students to gather the same information they would from typical lectures in a way that is much more native to them. Many of us have technology in our classrooms as well; why not use it? 

21st Century Skills 

In addition to our normal curriculum, we’re supposed to be teaching students 21st century skills – skills that will benefit them beyond the four walls of our classrooms. Skills like critical thinking, collaboration, and media, information, and technology literacy. 

Pair students up to explore the various sites of a virtual field trip. Have them analyze the validity of websites and debate the rhetoric of various media accounts. Expose them to online platforms they may not have previously used. Practice research skills. Pretty much anything you want. 

Cost Efficient 

Let’s face it. Teachers don’t have a lot of money. Many districts don’t have the funds to send students on elaborate trips – especially international ones. And while visiting Mars may one day be an option for the average person, that day is not today. Using virtual field trips in the classroom exposes students to places and cultures that they may otherwise never had the chance to experience. 

 

How to Make a Virtual Field Trip for Students

You’ve decided that you want to give this whole virtual field trip thing a try. What now? There are many websites with options: WeAreTeachers, Ditch that Textbook, and Edutopia all provide lists of possible trips. 

Let’s say you’re feeling adventurous and want to plan your own. 

Planning 

The first thing you need to do is decide the why behind your virtual field trip. Are you wanting to introduce a text or an author? (link CT and Shakespeare VFTs?) Do you want to explore a historical landmark? Studying a historical event? Wanting real life examples of a mathematical concept? Deciding on your goal will help you narrow down your needed resources. 

Resources 

You’ve decided on a topic. Now comes the fun part. It’s time to start gathering your resources and creating the actual trip itself. 

There are a variety of ways you can do this. I have used Google apps (both Google Slides and Google Sites) to house my two virtual field trips. I like Sites because it allows me to embed videos a little easier than Slides does. The perk of using Slides is that students can type their answers directly into the slide instead of needing a separate response sheet. Either way, once created, you can simply share the link with students and set them free. 

Another site I like to use for engaging presentations is ThingLink. ThingLink allows you to create pop-ups that provide information. You can also embed documents and slides into the presentation. Here are some examples from other resources I’ve created: 

YouTube is great for finding videos to explain certain concepts. When creating my Introduction to Canterbury Tales Virtual Field Trip, I used YouTube videos to explain what life was like in the Middle Ages and provide students with a chance to hear part of the Prologue in the original Middle English. 

Another great resource is Google Earth. The cool thing about Google Earth is that it allows you to create projects, so you can save all your destinations in one spot. They also provide Voyager, which provides you with pre-made trips exploring topics such as National Parks, whale sharks, dinosaurs, and more. 

Finally, you’ll need to create questions for students to answer as they complete the virtual field trip. What information is the most important? What do you really want them to take away from this? Having a purpose for their exploring will help keep students on track. 

There you have it. Ways to use virtual field trips in the classroom. If you’ve tried virtual field trips, I’d love to know how it went. Hit “Comment” and fill me in! 

Looking for no-prep virtual field trips for high school students? Check out my Introduction to Shakespeare and Introduction to Canterbury Tales Virtual Field Trips. 

Want more ideas on how to engage students? Head over and read 5 Ideas for Using QR Codes in the Classroom to Increase Engagement and Using Escape Rooms in the Classroom

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