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Why Virtual Field Trips with Video Conferencing Are Needed in More Classrooms

Peter Bean
March 23, 2017

Remember when you were an elementary school student and got to go on your first field trip?

The thrill of leaving the classroom and getting to hike in nature or go to a museum instead?

Well, times have changed.

Despite their many benefits, more and more students aren’t being given the opportunity to go on field trips.

In a December 2015 study by the School Superintendents Association, 34% of U.S. schools have eliminated field trips entirely, more than double the amount from 2009.

Whether it’s school budget cutbacks or families being unable to afford them, field trips just simply aren’t as accessible as they used to be.

So how can your students still get the enrichment these excursions provide, but at an affordable cost?

The answer is interactive virtual field trips – engaging in real-time interviews with subject-matter experts over video conferences.

Field Trip Benefits

There’s simply no denying the benefits that field trips, either in-person or virtual, provide your students.

Field trips enhance the classroom experience for students of all grades, from elementary school all the way through to senior-level high school.

Students are more engaged and gain a deeper understanding of what they’re learning about.

While it’s easy to assume the positive effects of field trips on a student’s learning experience, there’s limited concrete evidence on the topic.

But one study, from Dr. Jay Greene of the University of Arkansas in 2011, was the first large-scale randomized control trial designed to measure what students learn from school tours of an art museum.

What Dr. Greene found was that in his study, titled The Educational Value of Field Trips, was that students:

  • Recalled a great deal of factual information from their tours weeks later
  • Displayed “demonstrably stronger” critical thinking ability
  • Had higher historical empathy (the ability to understand and appreciate what life was like for people who lived in a different)
  • Were more interested in returning to an art museum afterwards

Taking the museum field trip a step further, doing so over video conference can eliminate any travel liability and cost obstacles, while also giving students more time to absorb what they’re learning.

“It’s better in that I could view each place in my own time; I wasn’t rushed through, like on many field trips,” said Emily, a high school student from Maine in an Education World article. “I would gladly go on this type of field trip [again]. It saves time and money and is very convenient.”

Disadvantaged students reap even more of a benefit.

While many students are privileged enough to be taken on culturally enriching experiences outside of school, the families of disadvantaged students are less likely to provide the same opportunities.

Sometimes the only way disadvantaged students will be able to enjoy the enrichment from these experiences is if they’re taken by their school.

The data backs it up as well.

In Dr. Greene’s study, he found that students from rural areas and high-poverty schools, as well as minority students made “exceptionally large gains” in critical thinking and empathy — gains that were “two to three times larger” than those of the rest of the group.

Adding the possibility of virtual field trips to these experiences opens the door to provide limitless opportunities to expose disadvantaged students to cultures and subject matter that they would not have had otherwise.

Field trips help students enjoy school more.

Seeing the anticipation from your students rise the closer the day of a field trip gets and their faces during the actual event are special in their own right.

But how students are affected in the classroom even after the field trip is special as well.

In a 2013 study conducted by the U.S. Tour Association, 400 adults of mixed genders, ages and ethnicities were surveyed. Half of the group had taken an educational trip between the ages of 12 and 18, and the other half had not.

The study found that of the group that had participated in educational travel:

  • 86 percent said it made them more intellectually curious in the classroom
  • 80 percent said it made them more interested in what they learned in school
  • Added to context and depth of classroom discussions

“It doesn’t have to be a trip to Paris, it can be a trip to a National Park to learn about the environment.  It’s that you get out there, at a young age, and see a part of the world that’s different from your own. It  expands you,” US Travel Association President Roger Dow said in a release.

They positively affect academic performance and career choices as well.

In the same U.S. Travel Association study, it was found that:

  • Adults that experienced educational travel as teens earn 12 percent (nearly $5,000 median income) more than their peers
  • 9 out of 10 adults that took an educational trip in their youth says it had a positive impact on their career
  • Nearly twice as many adults (57%) that experienced educational travel attained a college degree than those who did not (33%)

So how can all students experience some sort of educational travel during their formative years, regardless of cost or distance?

It’s simple: virtual field trips.

And what’s the biggest reason field trips are a hit with educators and students alike?

They’re fun!

So if the benefits of field trips are so pronounced, why are they being cut nationwide?

Support & Resources Keep Declining

The economic downturn has drastically affected both school boards as well as parents.

Schools aren’t able to provide the funding for these trips nor are interested in providing the time for them as well, with increasing pressure to raise student performance on standardized testing for math and reading.

85% of teachers responded that their school has reduced support for field trips. When they off-load the responsibility to parents, many can’t afford the additional expense to send their children.

This trickles down to the students themselves and affects them at school.

“Often times it requires the parent to contact the school, and I’m finding that there are a lot of parents who are not willing to do that,” one teacher said in an article titled “When the Field Trip’s Too Pricey Students Self-Exclude“. “They somehow feel that just making that phone call is creating a stigma for their child.”

Field trips also need parent volunteers for transportation and supervision, which is growing harder and harder to do. If the family isn’t split, then it’s likely both parents are required to work as cost of living increases. Parent schedules being less flexible cause less participation and involvement from their side.

There’s also the issue of field trips being presented now as rewards instead of enrichment activities. Instead of going to a local museum or aquarium, students are taken less enriching destinations, such as amusement parks and sporting events, that provide little to no academic benefit.

So what can be done?

Video Conferencing Makes Field Trips Interactive

Options for virtual field trips exist for almost any subject or topic.

For example:

What if you could truly make these virtual field trips interactive, though? Beyond basic reading materials and on-demand videos?

Think interactive as in a volcano is about to explode and a “mission commander” interacts live with elementary school students as they learn about lava flow, watch videos of ash clouds, and receive seismic data on their laptops.

That’s exactly what Challenger Learning Center at Wheeling Jesuit University did for a group of sixth-graders of a rural Pennsylvania middle school.

“We have to be on the cutting edge,” explains Jackie Shia, the Center’s director, in an interview with Scholastic. “Our students go home to Xboxes and iPods, and then we take them into a classroom and show them photocopies. How do those worlds connect?

“It’s got to be innovative and exciting because there is so much stimulation outside the classroom.”

So how do you get started in your classroom?

First, reach out to educational institutions in your area that might already carry video conferencing, like museums, botanical gardens, science institutes, or cultural centers.

In addition to experience with these types of programs, these places can provide you with supporting materials for before and after the virtual trip.

Then, with real, tangible options to show, you can discuss video conferencing for your school with your principal or school board representative and mention the many benefits to implementing such a program, such as:

  • Students can interact with experts in real time
  • Content can be customized to whatever you’re teaching in your specific class
  • Lines up with provincial or state curriculum
  • Teachers can receive training content as well
  • Content can be created and used with other school boards

Conclusion

Simply put, field trips are an amazing way to keep students engaged, get them more actively involved, and help them retain more of what they’re learning.

With resources for these programs continuing to dry up, adding in virtual field trips expands the reach of these programs and provides more enrichment opportunities.

Have you ever tried a virtual field trip in your classroom? Let us know in the comments.