Reach back to the memories of your childhood education. How many field trips do you remember? Is there one that rises to the top in terms of being a life changing experience? What was it about that experience that is still with you today?

Ideally, field trips bring students to environments where the real information is. For the most part, students cannot experience diverse biomes, large industrial equipment, historical reenactments or the grandeur of original artwork from the confines of their classroom.

Really? They can’t? That question aside, what about those other field trips you went on. Not all field trips meet the level of the ideal. There is a lot of time waiting for transportation, navigating ticket lines, and suffering through the monotone lectures of docents. Despite an instructor’s best wishes, some field trips model the worst practices in instruction. [1]

But the ideal field trip can engage learners by taking them out of their ordinary and predictable institutional space and into the field, the place where experts work, where data is collected and where the action happens. So why can’t students benefit from this engagement directly from a classroom, or their own homes? The only thing that prevents engagement at a distance is good design and the use of the right technology. Allow me to introduce you to the concept of Virtual Field Trips (VFTs).

VFTs have the potential to eliminate travel costs and wait times, as well as poor visits due to inclement weather. Additionally, students can interact with sites for an extended time, beyond normal “tour’ hours and can revisit as often as they wish. Many of the same strategies employed in asynchronous online teaching can be used in VFTs.

What makes any field trip, conventional or virtual, really pay off is making the student own the experience. This can be achieved by crafting instruction and activities before, during and after visits. [2]. The key is giving the student a reason to visit a particular site. It might very well be that the location or kind of site is left up to an individual or group of students to decide. If a student begins with an investigation that naturally leads to more clues residing at a historical site, museum or scientific lab, then the student will be far more motivated to interact with specific exhibits and curators. Rather than face a passive lecture, the student creates a dialogue with discipline experts and asks questions worthy of researchers dedicating their professional life to a subject.

Deeper learning should be reinforced with reflection activities, collaboration, and presentation. These all provide opportunities for assessment as well.


[1] Cox-Petersen, A., Marsh, D. D., Kisiel, J., & Melber, L. (2003). Investigation of guided school tours, student learning, and science reform recommendations at a museum of natural history. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 40(2), 200-218
[2] Lei, S. A. (2015). Revisiting Virtual Field Trips: Perspectives of College Science Instructors. Education, 135(3), 323-327.

Explore Williamsburg: This town map for the historical Williamsburg provides an excellent planning tool for students to make the most of their visit, either face to face, or virtually.

This town map for the historical Williamsburg provides an excellent planning tool for students to make the most of their visit, either face to face, or virtually.