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" A virtual fieldtrip is one way that middle school teachers can take advantage of educational technology applications that enhance student learning."

community-based virtual trip

"The community-based virtual fieldtrip enables students to know and explore their support base."

Virtual Fieldtripping: No Permission Notes Needed
Creating a Middle School Classroom Without Walls

Candy Beal
Assistant Professor
College of Education and Psychology
North Carolina State University
Raleigh, NC
Cheryl Mason
Assistant Professor
Curry School of Education
University of Virginia
Charlottesville, VA

You and your students can travel the world without ever having to collect a single permission slip or arrange a single chaperone. Virtual fieldtrips provide teachers and students with the opportunity to engage in exciting experiences that extend learning beyond the four-walled classroom. A virtual fieldtrip is one way that middle school teachers can take advantage of educational technology applications that enhance student learning. Through virtual fieldtripping, students look outside themselves, adopting a less egocentric focus and become better informed about local, national, and international interests; and are thus better able to understand issues and concerns that may arise about an area they have "visited". Virtual fieldtrips can be created using multimedia software such as HyperStudio or virtual fieldtrips can be accessed through the World Wide Web.

To best explain methods of using virtual fieldtrips in the middle school classroom, we have defined four distinct objectives of virtual fieldtrips:

  1. To help students synthesize what they learned on a class fieldtrip.
  2. To prepare students for an upcoming class fieldtrip.
  3. To provide students with information about areas they are unable to visit as a class.
  4. To provide students with information about areas their teacher visited.

To fulfill each of these four objectives, a different category of virtual fieldtripping should be used in the classroom. The categories of virtual fieldtrips are unique not only in their objective, but also in the computer software used. This article will discuss the developmental appropriateness of the virtual fieldtrip in the middle school classroom and explain each of these four categories.

Sense of Place

Finding yourself, establishing your identify, and understanding yourself, are not new to the literature on development. Adolescent or otherwise, we all engage in the endless journey to know ourselves and find our sense of place. Robert Frost addressed this issue in his poem, "A Cabin in the Clearing for Alfred Edwards" (Frost,1962). What follows is an edited conversation from that poem. MIST and SMOKE discuss sense of place:


I don't believe the sleepers in this house

Know where they are.


They've been here long enough

to push the woods back from around the house

And part them in the middle with a path.


And still I doubt if they know where they are.

And I begin to fear they never will.

All they maintain the path for is the comfort

Of visiting with the equally bewildered.

Nearer in plight their neighbors are than distance…


They must by now have learned the native tongue.

Why don't they ask the Red Man where they are?


They often do, and none the wiser for it.

So do they also ask philosophers

Who come to look in on them from the pulpit.

They will ask anyone there is to ask -

In the fond faith accumulated fact

Will of itself take fire and light the world up.

Learning has been a part of their religion.


If the day ever comes when they know who

They are, they may know better where they are…

We aren’t so different from these ancestors of whom Frost has written. Our own sense of well being is directly related to our sense of place. MIST and SMOKE suggest that the cabin’s inhabitants are so caught up in their day to day travails that they have only a very superficial understanding of where they are, if that. Yes, they have pushed back the woods and connected themselves to their "equally bewildered" neighbors, but even after asking "anyone there is to ask" about where they are, their "accumulated fact" has not of "itself taken fire and lighted up the world." SMOKE cautions that "If the day ever comes when they know who they are, they may know better where they are."

We suggest that a better understanding of where you are means firm grounding for making connections to who you are. This is true figuratively as well as literally. Sense of place is not just a location, but a frame of mind. Consider the following: a fragrance triggers a memory of another event in another place at another time and you are immediately transported. A song can recall another era in your life, while a work of art might suggest a connection to another place and a piece of literature might send you rushing headlong into a previous memory or experience. These are all a part of who we are.

Sense of place provides us with an important anchor. Take a moment to reflect on your own sense of place. Have you lived in one area your whole life, near family and friends? Or have you moved around because of your parents’ or your own job obligations? Have you had to scramble to network in your new locale or is your safety net well established? A well-developed sense of place provides a sense of well being. It enables you to count on personal connection for support. It also gives you a sense of belonging. You know that you will always be accepted. Frost says in "The Death of the Hired Man," ‘Home is the place where, when you have to go there, They have to take you in.’ Above all, a solid sense of place enables you the freedom to risk and know, no matter what the outcome you have support.

For many, the sense of place is not as well established as it was when we were an agrarian society. Then, families were wedded to the land. They depended on each other for their way of life and their very survival. Today, mobility makes it more difficult to establish and maintain support systems. Today, the "extended" in extended family often refers to distance among family members rather than to their relationship. Uprooted families take time to reestablish themselves and renew their sense of place. Loss of support safety nets, even if temporary may restrain family relationships. Parenting skills modeled and taught at grandma's knee may now depend on AT&T to make the family connections.

As teachers we tend to see adolescents in our own arena. To us, they are students and adolescents. Sometimes we forget that they are a part of a much larger circle. Garbarino (1985), a proponent of the ecology of adolescent development, explains that youth evolve in interrelated environments. If you were to draw a schema of these environments it would look like concentric circles with the adolescent at the center of the expanding circles. Those circles nearer the center represent the adolescent’s immediate world. The closest and most immediate environment is the microsystem. It is comprised of four areas of influence–family, peers, school and community. Adolescents develop based on their experiences and these areas are their reality. The connections among family, peers, school and community make up the next environment, the mesosystem. The nature of the links and the number of the interconnections bridging the areas determine how fully developed and supported a person is in the mesosystem.

Bronfenbrenner (1986) points out that alienation of our youth in any one of their "worlds" of childhood–family, friends, school, community -- breaks their link to support systems and puts them at risk. A disconnect at this time is especially damaging for adolescents because they are searching for their own identity. They are trying to decide who they are and what their role is in their immediate and ever-expanding world. This voyage of self-discovery demands a tight, supportive launch from family and community and the knowledge that a safe haven is always nearby. Especially critical is the acceptance and encouragement provided by peers and school.

Erikson (1968) speaks of an adolescent’s quest for ego-identity in his psychosocial theory of development. He reminds us that from birth to death we engage in the process of unfolding, striving to "become" who we are. The epigenetic process states "that anything that grows has a ground plan, and that out of this ground plan the parts arise, each part having its time of special ascendancy, until all parts have arisen to form a functioning whole." During the unfolding process we are asked to negotiate stages, each which involve a conflict. How we resolve the conflicts determines the strength and maturity of our ego-identity. Dr. Sam Snyder, Professor of Psychology at North Carolina State University, offers a unique explanation of the process. He likens the quest for identity and the stage-induced conflicts to gathering tools needed to construct ones identity. A positive resolution means one more tool for the toolbox that constructs your identity. To build a strong, positive ego-identity children must consistently resolve their conflicts aided by a supportive environment that gives meaningful recognition of an adolescent’s efforts and accomplishments.

Arnold's seminal work, "A Curriculum to Empower Young Adolescents," argues for learning that recognizes and respects the students' ability to explore, take initiative and responsibility, and assume increasing control over their own learning (Arnold, 1993). Students must do this from a level of comfort that is built on a foundation of support. Good teachers provide this support, but so may parents and community.

The community-based virtual fieldtrip enables students to know and explore their support base. By accessing local resources they name their world, build their support systems and draw confidence from what the exercise tells them about themselves and their community. Building a community-based fieldtrip also enables students to engage in service learning. When they interview their sources, photograph the site, research the background, and gather community stories, they adopt the role of "keepers of the community's history." Not only do they contribute to the well being of their community, but also they build a supportive identity infrastructure by strengthening their own frame of reference.

A community-based virtual trip was created by middle school preservice teachers at North Carolina State University. These students developed a HyperStudio stack of Haywood Hall, one of the oldest single family dwellings in the historic district of Raleigh, North Carolina. The students' preparation of curricular materials for a historic site fulfills a portion of the service component of the teacher education program. Additionally, the preservice teachers refined their data-gathering skills by gathering the information to include in the virtual fieldtrip and they refined their teaching methods by writing curriculum materials to accompany the virtual fieldtrip.

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Meridian: A Middle School Computer Technologies Journal
a service of NC State University, Raleigh, NC
Volume 2, Issue 1, January 1999
ISSN 1097-9778
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