Using Virtual Reality to Augment Museum-Based Field Trips in a Preservice Elementary Science Methods Course


Source: Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 19(4), 687-707

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this paper, the authors report findings of a study using student mobile devices for a virtual reality field trip (VRFT), that is a virtual field trip (VFT) that uses virtual reality (VR), in conjunction with a separate in-person field trip to a museum of natural history as part of a preservice elementary science method course.

Purpose of the Study
The authors wanted to create an experience where college students in a preservice science methods course could be introduced to both traditional museum-based field trips and VFTs/VRFTs.
As part of the study, they were trying to develop new and innovative ways to use technology in elementary science classrooms, specifically around science museum field trips.
The VRFT was introduced as a way for preservice teachers to gain experience with advanced technologies and be exposed to their challenges and benefits in a real-world context.
Using a museum of natural history at a research university in the southwestern United States, they developed a VR museum tour using 360-degree photospheres, Google Cardboard, and the students’ own personal mobile devices for viewing (Harron, Petrosino, & Jenevein, 2017).
Students were introduced to best practices for museum visits, focusing on before-during-after pedagogies from Falk and Dierking (2016).

The research was guided by the following questions:
1. What are the differences in how participants explored a museum using VR before and after they visited the physical museum in person?
2. How do preservice science teachers think VR could be used to teach science in their elementary science classroom?
3. What do preservice science teachers perceive as the affordances and constraints of using mobile devices for VR in the classroom?

Research Design

Participants - Participants in this study were preservice elementary teachers (n = 27) enrolled in two class sections of an elementary science methods course at a large research university in the southwestern United States.
This methods course is required for all undergraduate students who are seeking to earn their EC-6 generalist teaching certificate.

The in-person field trip and VRFT were of a natural history museum located at the participants’ university campus.
Prior to conducting the study, all four floors of the museum were captured using a 360-degree camera.
The authors designed a custom VR tour of the museum (Authors, 2017) where participants could move through the museum by looking at arrows and pressing the button on the top of their Google Cardboard.
This study took place over a period of 3 weeks, with each week representing one portion of the before-during-after field trip sequence.

Before the trip
The week before the trip, the instructors gave students general background information about the local natural history museum, an overview of the trip itinerary, and a description of the goals for the trip.
In addition, the instructor shared a recorded lecture on the role of outside of school learning to prepare students for the field trip.
All students were given the preassessment, titled “Museum Trip Survey,” which included open-ended and sorting questions to assess their current knowledge of sedimentary rock and fossils, as well as open-ended general questions about using museum field trips, other field experiences, and VR when teaching science.
After completing the survey, one randomly selected half of the participants was taken to a conference room to try a VR tour of the museum in order to capture their interactions prior to physically visiting the museum.
The other half stayed in the classroom to discuss class material unrelated to the field trip and would later receive the virtual experience after the museum field trip. This process was repeated for the second sections of the course.

Pre-museum virtual reality field trip
The VRFT was conducted in a conference room around a large conference table with rotating chairs.
As participants explored the virtual museum, their virtual movement was captured by the researchers in a database that recorded participant ID, current photosphere being viewed, and duration in seconds.
Participants were free to explore the VRFT for as long as they liked.
Immediately following their virtual experience each participant was given a survey about the experience and was encouraged to write additional comments on the back.

Museum field trip
Once all participants had arrived to the museum, the instructor handed out printed packets (“My trip to the museum,” a K-3 guide designed for elementary students who visit the museum) and gave a brief introduction to the museum.
The instructor led a tour of the first floor, and students completed an activity with the associate director of the museum about interpreting fossil dinosaur tracks.
After the activity, participants were free to explore the remaining parts of the first floor of museum by themselves to complete the packets.
The third author served as the docent for the field trip, leading students through the first floor as a "tour of geological time”.
In total, students spent 150 minutes at the museum, with 45 minutes to explore the museum on their own.

Post-museum virtual reality field trip
The week following the museum visit was held in their regular classroom.
The other half of the class who had not tried the VR museum field trip was brought to a conference room to experience the VRFT.
In addition to the post-museum VRFT, the entire class debriefed with the instructor about what they thought of the museum, what were their favorite parts of the museum, and what science content they had learned. After the discussion, all participants completed the post-assessment of the Museum Trip Survey.

Data Analysis
The information captured in the researchers’ database was used to generate heatmaps which was layered on top of a map from the museum website.
Based on the guidelines for creating heatmaps by Bojko (2009), frequency of visiting each photosphere was used instead of duration.
The researchers performed an analysis of the pre- and post-assessment open-ended question (“How might you use virtual reality experiences when teaching science?”) and any comments that participants wrote on the back of their VR experience survey.

Findings and discussion

Sequencing of In-Person and Virtual Field Trips
Based on the findings of this study, the authors state that VRFTs are best used for recall of the experience after an in-person field trip.
They report that the before museum field trip group exhibited less exploration, possibly due to being unfamiliar with the environment – a finding that aligns with the novelty effect identified by Falk et al. (1978).
They note that participants in the post-museum VRFT group showed higher levels of recall from their in-person field trip, particularly when seeking out their favorite exhibits. In addition, participants in the post-museum group more freely explored the space and sought to explore parts of the museum they had not seen on the trip, such as the fourth floor.
As such, the authors feel that the ways local and virtual field trip experiences can be used to complement each other may need to be reconsidered.

Opportunity to Rethink the Local Field Trip Experience
Although participants in this study visited a local museum, the authors note that VR was still perceived as a way to visit “far away” rather than as a supplementary tool to enhance local field trips.
The authors suggest that further work needs to be done so the post-trip benefits of VR can be fully utilized in the classroom with more museums, zoos, and other popular field trip destinations.

Scaffolding to Reduce Virtual Reality Fatigue
The authors report that after only about 10 minutes of using low-cost VR technologies, VR fatigue begins to set in.
They suggest as such, that educators should consider how they plan to implement the virtual experience in the classroom. Given that 10 minutes is not long enough to explore larger destinations, such as a four-story museum of natural history, the authors suggest that teachers may need to scaffold the virtual experience with periodic small-group and whole-class discussion to reduce eyestrain and dizziness.
For example, students could locate their favorite exhibit and describe what they recall about it to a classmate. Alternatively, the teacher could send the students on a virtual scavenger hunt to find multiple exhibits throughout the museum, which may aide in the recall of the in-person experience.

Further Research
The authors suggest that additional research needs to be conducted to replicate the findings of this study.
While evidence is strong that student recall took place when using VR after the museum visit, the authors did not have evidence whether it contributed to their understanding of the concepts learned during their actual field trip.
They feel that studies with a control group and validated pre- and post-assessments need to be conducted before any claims can be made about student learning outcomes.

Bojko, A. (2009, July). Informative or misleading? Heatmaps deconstructed. Paper presented at the Human-Computer Interaction International Conference, San Diego, CA
Falk, J. H., Martin, W. W., & Balling, J. D. (1978). The novel field-trip phenomenon: Adjustment to novel settings interferes with task learning. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 15(2), 127-134. doi: 10.1002/tea.3660150207
Harron, J., Petrosino, A., & Jenevein, S. (2017). Development of museum learning experience using virtual reality and mobile devices. In P. Resta & S. Smith (Eds.), Proceedings of Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference (SITE) 2017 (pp. 1592-1597). Austin, TX: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE). Retrieved from

Updated: Mar. 15, 2020