Electronic field trips provide opportunities and experiences that are similar to those of traditional field trips: exposure to "real" people and events, a compelling context for required school subjects, and the opportunity to make connections with others. Since field trips are a familiar phenomenon in K-12 education, the electronic version is a good way for teachers and students to acquaint themselves with the possibilities of the Internet. The electronic field trip can provide the kinds of situations and tools that enhance follow-up activities and that, research shows, can maximize the potential for learning on a field trip. Electronic field trips address some educational issues while raising others; the issues raised in the context of the electronic field trip should be considered challenges that teachers and students can face together.
With the increase in interest in and access to Internet technology in schools, the electronic field trip is gaining popularity among K-12 teachers and students. The electronic field trip is a field trip that students and teachers take via the Internet, using their computers and modems to access up-to-the-minute information right from the classroom about places such as museums, cities or countries, or local businesses. Since students and teachers "travel" to other places, the electronic field trip has many characteristics in common with traditional field trips. On the other hand, since it is conducted from the classroom, the electronic field trip has some advantages over traditional field trips. The fact that electronic field trips are similar to traditional field trips lends them an element of familiarity so teachers can plan effectively. The fact that electronic field trips are different from traditional field trips helps teachers and students visit places and conceptualize ideas that may not have been feasible before Internet technology.
One of the benefits of taking students on field trips is that they are exposed to "real" people and events; through the authentic learning experiences a field trip can provide, students develop a sense of themselves in relation to the world. Subjects learned in school take on new meaning when students are able to connect them to people and occurrences outside the classroom. As just one example, a trip to a local hospital and the opportunity to talk with doctors or nurses could help students become more familiar with the kinds of responsibilities hospital staff have, as well as the kind of coursework they would need to complete in order to become a doctor or nurse. Such exposure could help students make decisions about their futures that are based on a real understanding of the expectations and duties associated with particular occupations.
Or, in this example, students are interested to learn about Rwanda because one of the students has a friend from that country. Here teacher Cindy Lafkas helps her students digest web information about a United Nations assistance mission to Rwanda.
The video clip (2.2MB QuickTime Movie file)
Audio only of the clip (804K .AU Sound file)
In addition to this kind of example, there are many other ways in which field trips acquaint students with the real world. A visit to a museum can show students the ways and reasons that art, history, and science are valued in various cultures. A trip to a planetarium can help students learn about their planet and its relation to the rest of the solar system, galaxy, and even the universe. And a walk through a zoo can give rise to a discussion of the natural order and humans' place in it.
Electronic field trips have many connections to the traditional kind. Students on traditional field trips visit people and places that they are not normally exposed to during the school day; students on electronic field trips do the same thing. However, electronic field trips give students a number of unique tools that enhance the field trip experience and follow-up activities based on the field trip. Students are able to view and download audio-visual materials that both further their understanding of concepts and serve as tools for research reports. For instance, a report on whales would come to life when enhanced by a short movie showing, with sound effects, how whales come to the surface of the water to breathe. An electronic visit to an aquarium or zoo could make the use of such a movie possible.
Through electronic field trips, students also have the opportunity to connect, face-to-face and in "real time," with "real" people through video-conferencing. Through this tool, students can engage in dialogues with people from all over the world, learning about different perspectives and beliefs held in different places. Even students who lack video-conferencing hardware can engage in e-mail correspondence with people far distant from the school. For instance, students could connect with a class in France to discuss opinions about the U.S. and French governments. They could talk with a meteorologist in Australia to find out why winter weather comes to Australia during June, July, and August. These sorts of communications can serve to help students gather information as well as establish personal connections. Finally, electronic field trips also allow students to make repeated visits to a given site. This is especially helpful during the post-trip phase, when students synthesize their learning through research activities and reports. Electronic field trips allow students to generate further questions and seek out answers to them through repeated visits to sites.
In this video clip, students tell their teacher Cindy Lafkas about the World Health Organization and UNICEF information they have found.
The video clip (684K QuickTime Movie file)
Audio only of the clip (228K .AU Sound file)
Some research indicates that in order to maximize the effectiveness of a field trip as a learning experience, there are several factors to keep in mind. For example, Orion and Hofstein (1994) refer to "novelty space," which affects the amount a student is able to learn on a given field trip. There are three components of a student's novelty space:
- geographic novelty, which refers to the students' familiarity with the field trip site,
- psychological novelty, which refers to the extent to which students have previously considered field trips to be social rather than learning activities, and
- cognitive novelty, which refers to the skills and concepts the students encounter and are expected to master on the field trip.
The higher the novelty levels, the less likely it is that the student will have a meaningful learning experience. In other words, if a student has high levels of geographic, psychological, and cognitive novelty related to a field trip, that student will need to spend time getting used to being at the site, viewing the field trip as a learning rather than a social experience, and using the skills and concepts needed for this field trip. The amount of time the student spends doing this encroaches on the amount of time the student is likely to spend concentrating on meaningful learning.
Thus, some research suggests that adequate preparation for the field trip is warranted to reduce the novelty levels and enhance the learning experience. With actual field trips, teachers can dispell geographic novelty by introducing the field trip site prior to the actual visit with pictures or descriptions of the destination. They can reduce psychological and cognitive novelty by discussing, again prior to the actual field trip, expectations about what the students are to derive from the experience, in terms of both social interaction and subject matter knowledge. In short, helping students to develop a sense of familiarity with the field trip destination before their visit may enhance the amount and quality of their learning.
It follows that repeated exposure to a field trip site would help to reduce novelty effects related to it. With an electronic field trip, classes or individual students can visit a field trip site repeatedly. This is a benefit of electronic field trips that actual field trips cannot generally provide; it is unlikely that classes would be able to visit the same actual field trip site more than once, so each visit is a "one-shot deal." Students can electronically visit a given site as often as they like, which dispells geographic novelty. Also, the effects of psychological and cognitive novelty will likely decrease with each successive electronic field trip as students become more used to and interested in using the WWW to complete assigned tasks.
Some research also indicates that what happens before and after a field trip is as important as what happens during it. As is indicated by the research on novelty space, students who are familiarized with field trip procedures and expectations before they go tend to have higher learning performances than students who are not familiarized. This is not a problem with electronic field trips because of the opportunity for repeated visits. And once the field trip is over, having students report on what they observed at the field trip site is a good way to complete the experience. With an electronic field trip, students can report on what they observe--immediately and repeatedly.
This also speaks to some research that indicates that students learn better in a field trip situation if they have specific tasks to accomplish. Having students complete different, particular tasks related to a given site at different times can keep them focused, and as they become more familiar with a site, they may assume more ownership of a site. For instance, on a field trip to the New York Public Library, one assignment could be to collect information to investigate some social or historical phenomenon related to the concepts of immigration and naturalization. Another assignment could be to conduct research on a favorite poet and then write an original poem in that poet's style, being as true to form, voice, and subject matter as possible. Students will learn more about a site each time they visit, and the more they learn, the more likely it is that they will become acquainted with resources that they may use in the future.
Finally, electronic field trips are not subject to the same restrictions that constrain actual field trips. For instance, teachers and students on electronic field trips never have to worry about inclement weather or unreliable transportation. The weather is never a problem in the classroom, and the students' visits never take them out of school, eliminating the need for physical transportation. On the other hand, the electronic field trip raises some issues that are not associated with the traditional field trip. These issues include but are not limited to: the number of available computers and how that may affect the structure of electronic field trip activities, the fact that some sites may have more educative than entertainment value, and the possibility that some students may be more comfortable in a computer-based environment than some teachers. Since the Internet is a new and constantly changing learning environment, some schools and districts have developed acceptable use policies and procedures for classroom implementation. Thus, teachers using the Internet in their classrooms might want to send parents permission slips at the beginning of the school year that discuss their school's or district's policies and procedures and outline how the Internet technology will be used in the classroom.
The electronic field trip opens up many possibilities for students and teachers alike to learn and to enjoy learning about the Internet as they work through subject matter. Since it builds upon the familiar concept of the traditional field trip, the electronic field trip can act as a bridge to help students and teachers expand their understanding and efficient and effective use of the Internet in the classroom, thereby increasing the quality and frequency of the contextualized learning experiences they have. As with any innovation in education, the electronic field trip has the potential to address some learning issues while it raises others; addressing these novel issues is part of the challenge of working with Internet technology, but it is a challenge that can be well worth the time and effort.
Cleaver, J. Y. (1991). Museum adventures: easier than ever and more enriching. Learning, Jul/Aug, 22-24.
Confar, P. L. (1995). Field trips worth the effort. Learning, April/May, 34, 36.
Orion, N. (1993). A model for the development and implementation of field trips as an integral part of the science curriculum. School Science and Mathematics, 93(6), 325-331.
Orion, N., and Hofstein, A. (1994). Factors that influence learning during a scientific field trip in a natural environment. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 31(10), 1097-1119.
- Valerie Worthington
- Nicole Ellefson