Saturday, May 30, 2009

Virtual Field Trips (VFTs)

Virtual field trip? If you’ve never heard the term, you might be wondering just what exactly a virtual field trip (or VFT for short) is all about?

Imagine having an abundance of topic related resources contained and accessible in one space.  These resources could be teleconferencing with subject matter experts, videos, images, scholarly web links, text documents, graphics, animations or a variety of learning objects.  The commonality of these resources is their relationship to a specific topic; for instance, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone National Park,the Aurora Borealis, the solar system, rainbows, etc… Get the idea? The sky is the limit for VFT topics. 

Elementary and middle schools are finding VFT’s to be especially effective classroom tools.  A recent article on virtual technology reports that middle school students at Hadley-Luzerne Central School, “learned about segregation by connecting with members of the Little Rock Nine, a group of blacks who in 1957 were prevented from entering the racially segregated Little Rock Central High School. The group was in Little Rock, Ark., when they met over the Internet with the Hadley-Luzerne students.”  This is an excellent example of how students can interact with the world without ever leaving the classroom.  Students are given opportunities to interact and exchange dialogue, questions, concerns and commentaries with researchers, personalities, and subject matter experts (SMEs) worldwide. 

Aside from the advantages that are opened up through virtual travel, today’s economy is yet another incentive for creating virtual field trips for the classroom.  Expenses of traditional field trips including bus rentals, drivers and rising fuel costs has already eliminated the field trip experience for many school districts.

Students at a Palm Desert elementary school are exploring the tide pools and marine environment of Crystal Cove State Park in Laguna Beach without any freeway travel. "It's just really expensive to go on field trips," says Desert Sands Unified's technology project teacher Cyndi Furr. With growing budget cuts affecting field trips, “the Park’s Online Resources for Teachers and Students (PORT Program) allows students to explore a variety of state parks for free.” There are no entrance fees to parks and museums and no fuel costs.

The budget in Fayette County, Pennsylvania hasn’t stood in the way of their students traveling the world through video conferencing. “As recession-strapped school districts trim their budget, virtual field trips are becoming more and more popular,” reports Amy Crawford of the Pittsburg Tribune-Review in an article on virtual trips for students.

Higher education is finding effective usage through VFT’s in multiple disciplines.  At the University of Arkansas virtual field trips are improving undergraduate education.  “Despite their educational value, economics and logistics have greatly reduced or eliminated the ability of instructors of greenhouse management and controlled environment agriculture to use field trips or on-site visits as educational tools…VFT's will provide a cost-effective alternative to field trips and improving learning with results of this project being enhanced learning for students in greenhouse management and controlled environment agriculture” (Evans, M. R. Cavins, T. J. Kuehny, J. S. Harkess, R. L. Greer, R. L.).




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