#43 – Leveraging Virtual Field Trips to Engage Students in Authentic Learning

Unpacking Education June 9, 2021 27 min

As teachers, we provide rich learning experiences for our students every day within the walls of our traditional classrooms. But when we are able to break down those walls and connect with resources beyond our normal learning spaces, we can bring a new level of magic into the learning experience that can inspire and enrich our students at an even higher level.

Research has shown that when we can provide real-world learning—like field trips and guest speakers—to our students, they gain academically as well as socially and emotionally. When exposed to these events, students often recall information at a higher rate, utilize critical thinking skills, and develop historical empathy and greater levels of tolerance. These are important outcomes in any classroom.

Even with limited budgets and full calendars, we can leverage technology to take our students on journeys and to meet people beyond our classroom doors. In this episode, we explore virtual field trips, to help you design learning experiences that honor student voice and choice, along with practical logistical and pedagogical tips to make it successful.

Paul Beckermann
PreK-12 Digital Learning Specialist
Rena Clark
Digital Learning Coach
Pamela Beckermann
PreK-12 Digital Learning Specialist

Travel is rich with learning opportunities, and the ultimate souvenir is a broader perspective.

Rick Steves, American travel writer


The following are resources available on AVID Open Access to explore this topic in more depth:

Tips to Locate Virtual Field Trips and Preparing for the Experience

It’s important to be intentional in planning for virtual field trips so that they are meaningful learning experiences. To ensure that your field trip has purpose and value, you will need to first identify the learning objectives that are aligned to your standards and consider how a virtual field trip can support the intended outcomes. The virtual field trip could be used as a spark activity at the start of a new unit, it could be integrated within a unit to weave authentic experiences into the learning, or it could be used at the end of a unit as a culminating activity.

With virtual field trips, there are no geographic limitations, minimal teacher logistics, and decreased loss of student learning time due to travel, and many times, there is no cost. As a result of reducing these traditional field-trip barriers, we can now provide students with multiple opportunities to meaningfully experience the world around them.

Virtual Field-Trip Toolkit

To get started, consider exploring the following experiences to share far-off lands, art, culture, and musical experiences from around the world:

Before the virtual field trip, it’s important that students know the purpose and outcomes for the experience. They should know why they are visiting the destination selected. Rather than telling students what they should learn, you can generate excitement, pique their interest, and spark their curiosity by encouraging them to generate the questions that will drive their virtual field-trip exploration. The highly effective KWL strategy is often used to help students close the gap between what they already know (K) and what they wonder or want to know (W). Learning (L) is what occurs as they gain understanding, knowledge, and skills while answering the questions related to their wonderings.

Help Students Demonstrate and Reflect on Their Learning

After the virtual field-trip experience, students should create something that allows us to see what they learned. This evidence of learning can be used to share and celebrate their learning as well as to provide them with feedback on their learning. It is also another opportunity for them to make connections between what they knew prior to the field trip and what they know now as a result of engaging in the experience.

Ultimately, virtual field trips are a way to enrich students’ learning and provide them with access to experiences that they may not ever be able to have in person. In a sense, technology gives them a magic carpet to ride to not just anywhere in the world, but many places outside of it, too—like the MoonMars, the solar system, and into the stars beyond!