Toward a Virtual Field Trip Model for the Social Studies

Dec. 15, 2009

Source: Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 9(4). (2009).
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study presents Colonial Williamsburg’s Electronic Field Trip program as an instrumental case for generating a conceptual model for authentic VFTs that can be used to support the creation and utilization of additional VFTs in the social studies.

This study addressed three main questions:
What would a model social studies VFT look like?
How can teachers, teacher educators, and instructional media developers better utilize VFTs to engage their students in authentic experiences?
How does Colonial Williamsburg’s Electronic Field Trip Program inform the conceptualization of a model VFT?

In this article, key elements of a model field trip are induced from the body of research on authentic learning and pedagogy, field trips, virtual field trips, and other hybrid distance learning models. These elements are then utilized as a framework to analyze one of the most popular, robust, and longstanding VFT programs, Colonial Williamsburg’s Electronic Field Trip (EFT).

Case Study: Colonial Williamsburg’s EFT Program

The initial EFTs were essentially interactive educational television programs that combined video transmitted via satellite and public television stations with students phoning in with questions for a panel of costumed historical interpreters and historians during live segments. The current EFT model includes multiple ways for students to participate, but at the center is the original live video broadcast with call-in segments.

Implications and Conceptual VFT Model
The findings from this case provide important information for developing successful virtual field trips.
1. In order to be used successfully with a larger audience of upper elementary, middle school, and high school classrooms, a model VFT module should be designed for use at various times over the course of the year, and at multiple times during the day

2. Students and teachers benefit from scaffolding (students) and professional development (teachers) for VFT success. The VFT could include activities that will scaffold students into the VFT and training (either virtual or in person) and help sites for teachers to best take advantage of the VFT and related activities.

3. Interactions with experts are important, but interactions between students and between students and experts are even better. Student-to-student substantive conversation, facilitated by experts and teachers is the best course to an authentic field trip experience (Newmann & Wehlage, 1995). 

4. Field trips need to be issue or problem based, and students need to be engaged actively in disciplinary (and disciplined) inquiry. Structuring the activity around a problem or issue and engaging students in using disciplined inquiry to investigate it is key to any authentic learning (Newmann & Wehlage, 1993; Shaffer & Resnick, 1999).

Implications for Social Studies Teacher Educators

The most important implication of this study for teacher educators and professional development personnel is to emphasize lifelong learning and to instill a desire to continue developing media literacy skills.

This case study of VFTs and the resulting model for designing and implementing VFTs highlights the need for teacher development, knowledge of media, and ability to actively engage students in higher order thinking and substantive conversation as part of these naturally motivating and technology rich activities.

One major finding from this study is the need for more teacher education around the use of VFTs to help make student learning more authentic and aligned with the disciplines of the social sciences. VFT developers need to work more closely with teachers to develop resources such as tutorials or training modules that deal with how to take advantage of field trip components to engage their students in authentic learning.

Newmann, F. M., & Wehlage, G. G. (1993). Five standards for authentic instruction. Educational Leadership, 50(7), 8-12.
Shaffer, D., & Resnick, M. (1999). “Thick” authenticity: New media and authentic learning. Journal of Interactive Learning Research, 10(2), 195-215.

Updated: Aug. 23, 2011