The Art of Teaching through Authentic Learning: Virtual Field Trips and Worlds

How often do students get a chance to explore a museum? A science centre? The zoo? Once or twice a year if they’re lucky.  How can we go beyond just showing our students pictures or simple 2 dimensional representations? Is it possible to bring the world to the classrooms doorstep, undeniably!!! In today’s growing technological world, students are engaging in networked communities in order to gain real life, 3 dimensional experiences through virtual field trips and virtual worlds.

The social part of virtual worlds is one of the main factors that help to motive students because it is driven by free choice learning.  Falk and Storksdiek’s study (2009) stress the need for self -interpretation in learning and believe it influences student perceptions.  When lessons are created to align with student expectations and personal reality it helps to enhance natural curiosity making the learning meaningful.  Students are driven to discover and follow their own path of learning.  Each having their own ideas of how they plan to find their solution but also watching and asking others opinions along the way.

The virtual world is a collaborative platform that enables interaction between the teachers and students as well as students themselves who meet online to work on projects and develop.  In the world of science, new ideas and discoveries are happening all the time and students are given the chance to attend and learn in places where they may never have been able to be a part of.  Amazing, isn’t it?! These types of networked communities open up the world to meeting and learning from more people while exploring the world, which is not always possible within today’s isolated classrooms.

The world is recreated so students can feel like they’re in the moment thus engaging the learner and bringing them closer to an authentic learning experience.  Students can hook up with real world businesses and hash out ideas or collaborate on ideas or suggestions.  Real life meaningful and purposeful interactions help to extend learning to our student’s lives.  If experiencing science discoveries or visualizing a math concept by how it relates to the world is indeed the way we learn, educators must help to develop more opportunities outside of the one or two field trips a year by bringing real life experiences to students.

These types of online learning environments could also help to offer professional development that is engaging and enables educators to connect globally and share.  Not only will students reap benefits but also educators may find innovative ways to collaborate and develop the “art” of teaching.



Falk, J. & Storksdieck, M. (2010). Science learning in a leisure setting. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 47(2), 194-212

Second Life – Education (2007).

TOTS at UBC Library | Virtual Worlds (2007).

Zhu, Q., Xiang, K., Hu, S. (2007) Design an immersive interactive museum in second life. Digital Media and Its Application in Museums of Heritages, Retrieved on October 28, 2008 from

About Sarah Richer

passionate Canadian educator, creating a sustainable global shift 4 ed reform, researcher, tech enthusiast, mac lover, Studying Masters of Edu. Tech (MET)@UBC, Mississauga, Ontario ·


  1. A compelling vision, Sarah, and what that is being realized in so many other dimensions of the lives of our young people, and in our own lives.

    But our schools seem to be so resistant to opening the windows, let alone the doors, to wholesale use of these resources and the accompanying pedagogies that you suggest. I think if we can get to the “why” surrounding this resistance, there might be hope in overcoming it.

    I recall being very excited in 1993 when our school became part of the first Canadian Schoolnet initiative. I had signs all over our school proclaiiming that “the walls of our school” were about to come tumbling down. I had a map in the front foyer pinpointing the geographical origin of all of the emails that we had received since September. We used a 14.4 baud modem…and a few of us were pretty pumped about the possibilities.

    I realize that interfaces have changed, the amount of information and the number of potential relationships at our fingertips have grown exponentially in the past 20 years, but there is still this stubborn resistance to anything but small pockets of this type of vision and implementation.

    I think its still very possible, but how to break down the walls of resistance?

    I realize that I probably sound like an old guy who is saying, “been there, tried that.” I’m not (at least not the latter), but how do we get to that “horizon” where, as Jacques Cool would suggest, the ground meets the sky.

    Are there assumptions that we continue to make about what counts as teaching? learning? Who is allowed to be teacher? When learning is allowed to take place for it to matter?

    I would love to continue this conversation!

    • Maggie Bell /

      How refreshing to read your thoughts. I have just finished a heated discussion on why we should spend a lot of money on an excursion to the zoo- yet again for these students. Surely students could pursue their own line of inquiry via the www. Our task as teachers should be to help them be critical about where and what info they found, and then to supplier them with what they wish to do with the info they find. Sharing findings to other learning networks should be a responsibility for them to develop as well. Thanks again.

  2. Maggie Bell /

    Enjoyed your thoughts- I am trying to get teachers to envisage what future learning might look like and what it might entail from the point of view of both teachers and students. We keep talking about collaborative learning and learning networks and student inquiry learning but so far these are just terms and not understood enough to be put into teacher practice. I am now into my 60’s but find many of my much younger colleagues stuck in the age old teaching and learning practices.

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