Virtual Field Trips: An Online Learning Experience

Award Winner: 
2014 Sloan-C Effective Practice Award
Author Information
Deborah A. Raines, PhD, EdS, RN, ANEF
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
University at Buffalo: SUNY
Effective Practice Abstract/Summary
Abstract/Summary of Effective Practice: 

Online technologies have removed the barriers of time, cost and location from the learning activities and experiences available to students. Virtual field trips allow learners to engage with and to learn about authentic artifacts and to explore places important to their discipline of study and consistent with their individual learning needs. During a virtual field trip students can be guided through museums, historical documents, national monuments and agencies or organizations specific to the course content. A virtual field trip can also involve attending an artistic performance and connecting with a leader in the field of study. As a nurse educator, my students and I have visited the National Institute of Nursing Research, the National Library of Medicine, the Grave sites of famous nurses, The National Patient Safety Foundation and many other places to enhance understanding and application of course content. These field trips bring the real-world perspective to concepts discussed in course text-books as well as provide a national and global perspective to the material being studied. In addition, learners often find tools and resources that are useful in the academic studies as well as in their professional practice.

The opportunities for learning on a virtual field trip are limited only by the creativity of the leader (the faculty) and the engagement of the traveler (the learner). Once the destination is selected the virtual field trip needs to be planned: goals and objective, a guide for exploration and specific outcomes and souvenirs to be gathered by the traveler and then shared with the entire class. A discussion board, wiki or blog can be used to bring everyone together to share their individual journey.

Description of the Effective Practice
Description of the Effective Practice: 

The virtual field trip enables learners to visit and explore destinations relevant to course concepts and aligned with course learning objective. The virtual field trip brings real-life experience to the application and understanding of course concepts. I frequently use a virtual field trip at the beginning of a course to provide a “big picture” of the content we will be studying during the course. While each virtual field trip is different, the following are general steps in the creation of a virtual field trip.
• Identify destinations consistent with the objectives of the course and the learning needs of the students. Everyone may visit the same destination or a choice of destinations may be presented to the learner. Whether there is a single destination or a choice of destination is determined by the desired learning outcome.
• The leader/instructor must visit each destination, during the development process, to identify which areas, activities or resources the visitor (learner) will be directed to explore.
• Script an introductory statement to engage and interest the student in the activity. Including a map with the destination highlighted or a statement of the importance of the destination to the field of study.
• Provide a general focus or what the learner needs to achieve during their trip.
• Give the URL to the destination.
• Provide a guided tour and step-by-step instruction to get the visitor to the portion of the destination web-site that will facilitate achievement of the learning objective.
• Give clear details of what visitor need to look for, collect or observe while at the destination.
• Encourage learners to gather souvenirs, pictures and other memories/interesting findings from their trip to share with the class.
• Create an activity where each student shares and discusses their trip and what they learned with other students in the class. A discussion board, wiki, blog or voice-thread are all mechanisms for this sharing activity.
• Make it fun – include graphic and color in the field trip announcement.
• Consider sharing your trip to the destination as an example for the students as well as to demonstrate your involvement and participation in the field trip.
An example of a virtual trip used in a recent course is included as an attachment below.

Supporting Information for this Effective Practice
Evidence of Effectiveness: 

Student response to the virtual field trip activity has been overwhelmingly positive. In the posting sharing experiences and learning during the virtual field trip it is evident than many students really explored their destination and accessed documents or viewed items relevant to their individual nursing practice settings. In each group, a couple of students have actually reached out to ask questions or seek additional information from staff at the site being visited. This additional activity that was initiated by the student is evidence of their engagement in the activity and the effectiveness of the virtual field trip in encouraging them to seek knowledge to fulfill their learning needs. Students share photos from their destination, links to tool-boxes or white papers and some students even visit the gift shop and share virtual gifts for other class members

Over the past 2 years, I have used a total of 5 virtual field trips in five different courses. As part of the end of course survey, students have been asked to rate different learning activities used in the course. The aggregate rating for the virtual field trip activity, based on these five courses is 94% excellent and 6% very good. A total of 148 students responded to the end of course surveys and no one has rated the field trip activity as anything but excellent or very good. Qualitative comments about the virtual field trip activity include word such as “fun”, “great opportunity to learn about places I will probably never have the chance to visit in person”, “I loved visiting the AHCQR”, “I got great resources that I now use at work during the virtual field trip”, and “consider adding more field trips…it was great!”

Finally a group of colleagues and I conducted a program evaluation study to explore if students’ attitudes and knowledge about patient safety change as a result of the course, which included a virtual field trip. The research showed a significant increase in knowledge and attitude as measured before and after the course. A copy of the poster, which was presented at the AACN (American Association of Colleges of Nursing) conference in November 2013, with the research findings is included as an attachment below.

How does this practice relate to pillars?: 

Learning effectiveness: The virtual field trip capitalizes on one of the greatest advantages of the online learning technologies: the lack of barriers to exploration. The opportunity to visit locations outside the learner’s geographic home without the expense of plane tickets, hotels and time away from family and work commitments is not feasible in the traditional classroom. Designing virtual field trip which acknowledge the unique characteristics and interests of each learner and that grant the learner access to resource that are useful in the course and beyond, culminates in a learning activity that is effective in achieving course objectives, promoting disciplinary socialization and is satisfying and enjoyable to the learner.

Student satisfaction: Student comments related to the virtual field trip activity are overwhelmingly positive. Students appreciate the change from reading text document, viewing videos and responding to discussion probes. They also enjoy the freedom to explore specific aspects of a destination specific to their individual interests and career goals. For example at the National Institute for Nursing Research or the National Patient Safety Foundation a nurse practicing in pediatrics will explore different documents and tools than a nurse who practices in hospice or in an adult cardiology setting. Over time, it has been observed that a number of students re-visit the destination of their virtual field trip and reference document or use tools from the site in assignment or projects later in the course.

Equipment necessary to implement Effective Practice: 

The virtual field trip can be designed and implemented with no special software or equipment. All that is needed is access to the internet, the web-address/URL of the place to be visited, a discussion board, wiki or blog where students can share their travel experience and findings and some creativity to structure a fun and educational activity.

Estimate the probable costs associated with this practice: 

Since most universities have access to the internet for students and faculty, the start-up costs are minimal. The major investment is the time of the faculty in developing the learning activity and exploring the proposed destination to assure that the learning objectives are achievable.

References, supporting documents: 

Supporting document attached:
--Virtual_Field_trip.PDF -- an example of a virtual field trip.
--AACN Poster2.PDF -- finding of a program evaluation study related to change in attitude and knowledge following a course which included a virtual field trip.

Contact(s) for this Effective Practice
Effective Practice Contact: 
Deborah A. Raines
Email this contact: