Guest Blog Post
The field trip is a staple of elementary education, and it’s easy to see why. From the educator’s standpoint, taking the students out of the classroom for a day allows them to fully engage with a subject and learn visually in a museum, cultural, or wildlife setting.
It provides the opportunity to implement goals and lesson plans that deviate from the norm. And it forces students to share, communicate, and work in groups in a way they normally wouldn’t in a classroom setting.
From the student’s perspective, on the other hand, the field trip is a great way to get out of the classroom and break from the boring routine. Even a history museum can be exciting in the field trip context, and inquisitive students will always appreciate the opportunity to go somewhere new and see something different.
Teachers can consequently use such an outing as an incentive to learn. Just as college students may be motivated by student loans with a graduation reward, so too can elementary pupils be enticed by the promise of a field trip.
But field trips can be expensive for a school district and stressful for the teacher who has to keep track of 30 kids in a large museum. They also can be limiting. Unless your school is located in a major metropolitan area, there are probably only so many zoos, science centers, and wildlife preserves that you can visit.
Fortunately, the power of technology can address these issues by bringing the field trip to your classroom.
Countless websites provide pictures of famous places and recreations of famous scenes or events. These sites include those that exhibit pictures from the Sistine Chapel, exhibits from Colonial Williamsburg, and videos from the Holocaust museum. But none of these are truly virtual field trips because (1) the important information is presented, not explored, and (2) students view the exercise more like a classroom activity. For these reasons, many administrators have viewed virtual field trips as the counter to the goals of a physical one.
Yet Google has rectified this issue by making virtual tours of art museums worldwide. Just as one can “walk” down their street using Google Street View, so too can they stroll around and explore famous museums with the click of a mouse. The Google Art Project includes such places as the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, Tate Britain in London, and many more.
Clicking on a museum will provide a viewer with 360-degree views of most rooms – and artwork – in the collection.
Students can move around, explore the building, and zoom in on each piece of art. While zoomed in, information to the right of the screen provides commentary on that piece of work. A floor plan is even provided for navigation.
So how should an instructor devise a lesson plan based on these virtual field trips? Essentially, it can be treated just as a normal field trip would – by splitting students into groups, asking them to look at various genres of painting, and requesting observational notes or comparisons of some sort. Then give students a substantial block of time to explore and to see what they can take away.
As with any class outing, there is a lot that can be gained from experience. Can a virtual field trip be as good as a real one? In all likelihood, no, but it can certainly provide many of the same educational benefits. And it can save a considerable amount of time, effort, and money in the process.