“The Real Deal” versus “Virtual Reality”: I think there is room for both.

OK, kids… Let’s go to the museum!!!

Two hours later, the diaper bag and stroller are loaded.  The kids are strapped into their astronaut-like car seats.  Snacks are packed and at arms reach.  If you are really on the ball, you have a potty in the trunk of your battered-down, spilled-upon, somewhat-off-smelling mini-van, because “when you gotta go, you gotta go”. Extra clothes are tucked into the trunk, since a “blow out” can happen at any time. Once everyone arrives as safely as a NASA space shuttle landing, the only thing that could go wrong at this point is forgetting to pay for parking. (Just kidding… 100 other things could still go wrong; a parking ticket is the least of your worries!)

Although it is a heap of work to make educational adventure trips like these transpire, and I am fairly confident that I did not learn a heck of a lot on trips like these due to spending more time chasing than reading, I always felt like it was time well spent. (In retrospect, would a virtual trip to the museum have been easier?  No diaper bags and parking tickets to deal with, surely would make things less hectic.) Those who have never experienced the “ordeal” of willingly bringing pre-schoolers to public learning places may be questioning why I would even bother in the first place.

In general, who amongst us even go to these types of places? Believe it or not, there are five categories of adults who tend to make the effort  to broaden their intellectual experiences in a public place. In 2000, Falk and Storksdieck began  a three-year study that determined that most of us will fit into one of the following broad categories. They are:

  1. Explorers: curiosity driven, science-loving types
  2. Facilitators: the adult chauffeurs who are wanting to expose others to scientific learning
  3. Professionals and Hobbyists: they have “drank the Kool-Aid” already and can’t pass up an opportunity to drink more
  4. Experience Seekers: bucket-list types seeking to cross it off the list; “been there, done that, checked-out-the-gift-shop” type folks
  5. Rechargers: these folks just need to get away from their daily grind; relaxation in the form of science absorption (apparently, they have already used up their massage benefits on their medical plan)

What kind of visitor was I back then? I desperately wanted to be the Explorer, but alas, time was spent keeping children accounted for and alive (no exaggeration).  I could make the argument that I was a Facilitator, although pre-schoolers are hardly old enough to really absorb too much scientific learning; for them, it is play-based and social learning, every waking minute. Truth be told, I think I was the Recharger! Getting out of the house and preserving my sanity was my number one goal back then. That being the case, a Virtual Field Trip (VRT) would not have met my needs, however, that is not to say that a VRT would not meet the needs of others, including myself, four years post-pre-school years.

In their study with about 60 post-secondary science students, Spicer and Stratford examined students perception of using a VFT methodology over traditional lecturing practices.  Much later in the school year, students participated in an actual field trip that reinforced the learning that was replicated in their VFT.  The researchers made some interesting conclusions and realizations:

  1. Students felt that the VFT made their learning feel more personal, over traditional lecturing. Each student interacted individually with the program, allowing more opportunities for independent thought.
  2. Students really enjoyed using the virtual Field Notebook which allowed them to keep track of their thoughts and learnings in a non-linear, textual and graphical modality.
  3. Students felt that the VFT contained too much text and information whereas instructors felt that there was too little text and information.
  4. Although students spent two to three hours with program, they felt like they needed more time.  Overall, 80% of the student feedback was positive.
  5. After having the real field trip, students saw the value of using the VFT to enhance their learning however, they were adamant that the VFT should not replace the field trip.

So perhaps there is an appropriate use for the virtual world, within a classroom setting.  

Blending pedagogical modalities would appear to be the most effective route.


Today, parents and educators have a cornucopia of virtual”Science Snack” options available to be used in conjunction with  real-life go-to’s.  It turns out that there a heck of a lot of “Explorers with a Mission” amongst us who spend their time crafting virtual museums for us to learn from and with. Take the Exploratorium Teacher Institute, for example. This is an excellent site for anyone who needs to unharness their Inner Science Geek.  Here, you can watch videos of demonstrations or create your own demonstrations. Creating your own demos is simplified by the Exploratorium folks, as they use everyday materials and the recipe-like instructions have been thoroughly tested so that even the most inexperienced can become experienced without much effort.

Of course there are many a blogger who complile many a list of online learning tools, as well.

Other virtual highlights from the ETEC 533 course have included:

  1. WISE: Web-based Inquiry Science Environment– utilize very adaptive, pre-made inquiry lessons or make your own!
  2. GLOBE: “The Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) Program is an international science and education program that provides students and the public worldwide with the opportunity to participate in data collection and the scientific process, and contribute meaningfully to our understanding of the Earth system and global environment.”
  3. PhET: “…free interactive math and science simulations. PhET sims are based on extensive education research and engage students through an intuitive, game-like environment where students learn through exploration and discovery.”
  4. Chemland: Interactive Chemistry Experiments

These are but a few of the avenues that educators of all backgrounds can take advantage of the affordances of digital technologies. The question that I ask myself, however, is this: Would I want my children to be in front of a screen for the duration of their scientific learning?

Of course not. (That would eat into their Minecraft and Pokemon Go time…)

However, I do believe that these technologies can and will help educators keep their students’ love of learning and interest piqued.

Will these technologies ever fully replace the “real deal” experiences?

Until we can’t leave our houses, I would say no.

Sometimes Mummy just needs to get out of the house!!!

Falk, J. & Storksdieck, M. (2010). Science learning in a leisure setting. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 47(2), 194-212.
Spicer, J., & Stratford, J. (2001). Student perceptions of a virtual field trip to replace a real field trip. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 17, 345-354.


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