Virtual Field Trips for ELT

There are numerous ways to use technology today to take virtual field trips. These activities can be designed in many different ways. I tend to think of them as an extension of simulations or role-playing activities that have been popular in English language education for a very long time. Role-playing in language education allows us to create immersive simulated communication experiences in contextually meaningful spaces.

Traditionally, classrooms have been rearranged to resemble any number of target language practice settings: restaurants, bazaars, museums, historic sites, and so on. Learners can be placed in these spaces with specific language practice goals. With the enhancements available through various forms of technology, we can expand these immersive simulations in very interesting ways. Many of these new contexts allow learners to practice the relevant language with an increased sense of place as well as the ability to interact with and learn from virtual landscapes.

Google Street View

One of the most basic tools for creating this sense of immersion is Google Street View. Street view has been around since 2007 and allows users to experience interactive panoramas in different locations along streets around the world. I imagine most readers are already familiar with street view, but perhaps they have not considered using it as an instructional enhancement.

We have used Street View for students to visit locations prior to a physical visit or to visit a place where they had traveled or lived in the past. Users can add their own images, videos, and other contributions to these maps, making it possible to interact with others through these experiences.

One of the most simple and effective things we did in our learning labs years ago was to install a projector that projected on a wall rather than a screen. This allowed us to project from floor to ceiling, and learners could stand in front of the projection, feeling a sense of immersion. We soon expanded this to include three projectors, which was a very simple way of creating an extended experience of immersion. Readers who are interested can see a bit more about this here, but it is as simple as installing three projectors in a space with three adjoining walls.

Google Expeditions

Google has also created numerous options for us to engage in learning experiences that take advantage of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). These include Google Expeditions, Google Earth VR and Google AR. Google cardboard makes the cost of VR glasses, or viewing devices, reasonable for any classroom. However, these are not necessary because you can experience this immersion on a number of different devices. Here are a few brief videos that provide some examples and help describe how teachers can use Google Expeditions:

Google expeditions takes the VR experience that can often seem very isolating and turns it into a group activity that requires individuals to become leaders. The experience can transport learners to the place they are studying and allow different individuals to take responsibility for the tour. Students can be expected to engage in scavenger hunt activities or use the experience as a speaking or writing prompt. They can also be encouraged to return to these locations and share their thoughts with others (as mentioned earlier in Google Street View).

There are so many creative opportunities for instructors and learners. They can also create their own panoramas of their own locations and contribute to the growing Google Expeditions collections. Google currently has 9,076 different virtual reality tours around the world. These are situated in a wide variety of historical, social, and cultural contexts with many creating relevant opportunities for English education. Each of these tours includes numerous panoramas and information about the location that can help guide their use. Here are screenshots of some examples of different perspectives on the White House in the United States:

As well as a couple of examples about Canada:

And some VR panoramas about important and relevant topics, such as the motivations behind human migration:

Google Earth VR

Google Earth VR has also made VR available that is based upon satellite imagery so that you and your students can visit many familiar or famous places around the world. These tend to be larger and higher quality files, and they cover areas that are not included in Expeditions. Some examples of these VR sites include:

The entire collection of Google 9,076 expeditions can be found here.

Google also currently has over 100 Augmented Reality expeditions here.

I think the entry point for using these accessible virtual field trips has become so easy that all instructors should try them out. How have you used virtual field trips in your classroom? Please share in the comments below.

About Greg Kessler

Greg Kessler
Greg Kessler is associate professor of instructional technology in the Patton College of Education at Ohio University. He has written numerous books, articles, book chapters, and other publications. He has delivered keynote and featured talks around the world. His research addresses technology, learning, and language use with an emphasis on teacher preparation. He has held numerous leadership positions, including as Ohio TESOL president, CALICO president, and TESOL CALL IS chair. He is the editor of the CALICO book series, Advances in CALL Practice & Research, the Language Learning & Technology journal forum, Language Teaching & Technology, and many other comprehensive collections.
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2 Responses to
Virtual Field Trips for ELT

  1. Thank you for wonderful and detailed article. This can help my research on virtual field trips.

  2. Liz England says:

    I taught an undergraduate course on the freshman seminar and students organized a virtual round the world trip with stops in five cities on five continents – travel bookings, activities for five to seven days, budget and learning objectives, content and assessments. It was a wonderful experience.

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