Virtual Fieldtrips – and musings on engaging ways to learn without leaving home

I’ve been involved in the administration or evaluation of virtual learning experiences for more than 20 years and have seen a lot of trends come and go, and have seen lots of great examples of distance learning as well as some that have fallen short. 

Back in the mid-late 90s I assisted in online resource development for a series of Virtual Fieldtrips that were offered as part of the Turner Adventure Learning program. The TAL program also holds a special place in my heart because it was also the first educational program that I evaluated in a professional capacity (at least in so far as I was paid to do it). I had just started grad school and knew a fair amount about academic research, but realized there was much yet to learn about the subtle differences between research and evaluation. It was a collaborative effort with a few students from the Instructional Systems Technology program, and I’m now on a mission to try to dig up some of the deliverables from that initiative to better refresh my memory.

I talked a little about my experiences evaluating the Turner Adventure Learning program as part of a presentation that I gave at the iNACOL conference in Indianapolis (November 11th, 2011). Interestingly enough, I had to present virtually from Florida, given that I was concurrently attending the AECT conference. Here’s a link to the full presentation which included segments from my colleagues Kay Sloan and Camellia Sanford, as well as our collaborators at the Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration (CILC), Ruth Blankenbaker and Monica Cougan: iNACOL 2011 Virtual Fieldtrip Presentation. And here’s the video component that I created for my part of the presentation (since I wasn’t able to be in Indianapolis – and didn’t want to press my luck with live conferencing technology): Jen Borland’s Virtual Fieldtrip Talk iNACOL 2011. Lastly, here’s a link to the resources page that we created for the presentation: Virtual Field Trip Resources

Lessons Learned From TAL Virtual Field Trips:

  • Fieldtrips helped add depth and realism to studies
  • Overcame barriers to many traditional field trips
  • Training and support were key
  • Timing didn’t always align well with school schedules
  • Trying to interact during the program could be distracting
  • Couldn’t pause the live feed to interact in-class
  • Condensing the learning experience to top 1% (i.e., the best 15 minutes out of a 24 hour experience – can highlight the most exciting aspects but it differed from reality)



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