Planning Virtual Fieldtrips

Many museums have educators on staff who create and curate good educational resources to accompany temporary and permanent exhibits.  Of course, visiting the museum in real life (IRL) is the best option, however if circumstances do not allow, the museum website and educators guides could be used to facilitate meaningful virtual explorations.   Virtual visits are also a great way to visit museums around the world. This short guide will help you to use these online resources to create planned virtual fieldtrips.

Locating museum educational resources

Most museum websites have sections dedicated to educators’ resources.  There you will find a variety of resources ranging from educators’ guides for specific exhibits, to activities to cover various concepts and digital resources such as videos and images of art, objects and/or exhibits on view in the museum.  Museums will also archive resources from past exhibits which are also provide useful information and activities that could be extended with a virtual tour of objects no longer on view.

Museum resources

Educators’ guides

In general Educators’ guides contain the following information:

  1. Background information about the content of the exhibit
  2.  A map or floor plan of the exhibit
  3. Pictures of key artifacts, paintings and images featured in the exhibit
  4. Guiding questions or activities to do while visiting the exhibit
  5. Resources and suggestions for pre-visiting and/or extending learning beyond the exhibit

Digital collections

Museums are repositories of natural history specimen and scientific objects, historical and cultural artifacts, art and much more. For every object that you see in the halls there are hundreds of related objects in storage.  Many museums are making these available to the public through open storage as well as digitizing them and making them available online to a wider and global audience. Most of these collections are searchable with a few key words. These resources are useful in curating and planning your virtual visit as they are often high-quality images and offer useful background information. These collections are also useful if a museum does not have teaching and learning resources, they could be used to create a customized virtual tour. 

Interactives, animations and videos

Some museums, especially science and natural history museums, have professional staff who develop interactives, animation and well-produced videos to accompany exhibits and concepts covered by the museum.  These are great for pre and/or post virtual visiting activities as the could either help introduce or reinforce concepts encountered during the virtual trip.

Lesson plans and activities

These resources are geared towards classroom use however, they could be easily adapted for use during afterschool or at home. This are also useful in planning pre and post virtual visit activities.

Whether art, science or history, a common feature of museum guides and activities is that they are created with some notion of inquiry in mind; questions and prompts that compel learners to look closely, make careful observations and ask themselves and each other questions about what they notice. 

Planning your virtual visit

In order to plan a good IRL teaching and learning visit, it is always important to do some reconnaissance, whether this is your own visit to the museum or exploring the online resources.  Planning a virtual visit is not much different.  The upside of planning a virtual visit is that you don’t have to worry about the logistics of parking/transportation, entry fees, food options and students overstaying their allotted time in the gift store .

When planning a museum visit IRL, educators usually have pre and post visit activities to connect the museum learning to the classroom.  When doing a virtual visit, the same format is useful in being able to reinforce, connect and extend the virtual learning experience. 

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