Virtual field trips are a form of project-based learning, where instruction and learning occur within the context of a challenging project. Just as workers encounter complicated tasks in the workplace, students are presented with questions and problems that act as catalysts for learning. Projects usually extend over a few classes or weeks to help students acquire new, necessary knowledge and skill sets (Thomas, 2000).
In other words, instead of working on a small project for a week, projects build upon each other and can carry over from semester to semester as they facilitate the learning. Long-term projects make it possible to personalize learning, achieve more active involvement by students in shaping their education, and enable more authentic assessment of what students have actually learned. In history and social studies, a particular interest of mine, project-based learning (PBL) engages students as historians or social scientists and stimulates them to want to know more about the events and people they investigate.
Why should teachers use virtual field trips? Virtual field trips are an inexpensive way to integrate hands-on technology into the curriculum while maintaining student interest in the unit being studied. They offer a student-centered approach to instruction and diversify the teaching methods of content area instruction.
Virtual instruction allows students to view people and places in a visually stimulating environment, which cannot be done through mere textbook reading. (Lacina, 2004) Students bring back facts and information uncovered through their experience on their virtual adventure. Teachers can use virtual field trips not only to meet national technology standards but to combine content standards with technology standards fostering learning that results in interdisciplinary knowledge.