Why Virtual Tours

Excerpt from Best Ideas for Teaching with Technology: A Practical Guide for Teachers, by Teachers 

Field trips are excellent ways to immerse students in historical evidence by visiting museums, historical sites, author residences, or government buildings. Field trips are also expensive, complicated to organize, and draw students away from their other class responsibilities. Fortunately, if you cannot visit an important site in person, you can often visit the site virtually on the Web. While some online virtual tours consist of static two-dimensional images and text, others contain engaging three-dimensional animations and simulations, panoramic video, and more. Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home and plantation in Charlottesville, Virginia, offers an excellent example of a virtual tour at http://www.monticello.org/. The site offers two major tours of the house and plantation and several more specialized tours related to domestic life and horticulture. Each section of the tour has a Flash animated visit to a different section of the house and plantation, narrated by the Monticello staff.

The British Broadcasting Corporation has some excellent online virtual tours. BBC History tours are available athttp://www.bbc.co.uk/history/interactive/virtual_tours/ and are divided into three major categories: Ancient History, British History, and World Wars. The tours contain panoramas and 3-D models and several involve historical reconstructions and simulations. The BBC’s new Audio and Video service also offers a tour of the trail that links Shakespeare’s birthplace of Stratford-on-Avon with the Globe Theatre in London.

Virtual Tours are excellent vehicles for bringing primary source materials into the classroom, and museums and historical sites are adding more virtual tours to their Web sites. Some museums have Web sites that are so well-structured, you can just let students loose on them and trust that great learning will take place as students explore. If you expect that your students will need a little more guidance, here are some ways to structure student explorations of these tours.

  • Build a Scavenger Hunt around a virtual tour or a specific museum collection, like this one below
  • Give students an essay question or a series of short answer questions to be answered after taking the virtual tour.
  • Have students design their own guided tour of a museum collection organized around a theme, like Egyptian Objects for the Dead or Early American Objects for the Home. Students could post links and their own descriptions on a blog or Word document.
  • For an advanced class, use a screen recording program (see Chapter 8, Student Presentations) to have teams of students record their own guided visit to a museum collection or virtual site.

Examples of Virtual Tours

Google Art Project
Visit the great museums from around the world through the Google Art Project. Visitors can virtually tour museums and explore the most well knows pieces of art in stunning detail and with extremely detailed close-up images. Visit the Google Art Project YouTube Channel for more details.

TechTrekers Virtual Field Trips
Excellent for incorporating multiculturalism into the classroom. Through this site teachers can encourage their students to travel virtually to many countries. This site consists primarily of links to numerous virtual field trips as well as teaching projects, strategies and resources used by teachers around the world.

British Museum Tours
This web site’s tours include The African Galleries; The ‘Caves of the Thousand Buddhas’; Changing Face: Masks from the British Museum; Chinese Jade; Cleopatra of Egypt: from History to Myth; Durer and his Legacy; Egypt in the Old Kingdom; Gladiators and Caesars; Human Image; A Kind of Magic; Our Top Ten British Treasures; Rembrandt the Printmaker; Science and the Past; and The Vikings

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
There is much quality material for art students, educators, and enthusiasts at the The Metropolitan Museum of Art web site. Start with the Metropolitan Museum of Art Timeline of Art History, a chronological, geographical, and thematic exploration of the history of art from around the world. Each timeline page includes representative art from the Museum’s collection, a chart of time periods, a map of the region, an overview, and a list of key events. The timelines- accompanied by world, regional, and sub-regional maps-provide a linear outline of art history, and allow visitors to compare and contrast art from around the globe at any time in history. There is plenty more here apart from the Timeline: “Just for Fun” has interactive activities for kids, “A Closer Look” examines the “hows and whys” behind Met objects (such as George Washington Crossing the Delaware), “Artist” enables visitors to access biographical materials on a selection of artists as well as general information about their work, and “Themes and Cultures” presents past and present cultures with special features on the Met’s collections and exhibitions.

BBC History Virtual Tours
‘Walk’ around a historical building or structure take a 3D tour of a famous site in British History. You can embark on a Viking Quest, see how an Iron Age roundhouse was built, or take a virtual tour of a World War One trench.

Smithsonian American Art Museum 
The Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) is America’s first federal art collection, dedicated to the art and artists of the United States. More than 7,000 American artists are represented, including major artists such as John Singleton Copley, John Singer Sargent, Georgia O’Keeffe, and others. Themes and topics include Colonial portraiture, nineteenth-century landscape, American impressionism, twentieth-century realism and abstraction, New Deal projects, sculpture, photography, prints and drawings, contemporary crafts, African American art, Latino art, and folk art are featured in the collection. Today the collection consists of more than 40,000 artworks in all media, spanning more than 300 years of artistic achievement. The Smithsonian Online Exhibitions feature prize holdings from different eras in American history. The online version of American Art, the academic journal of the Smithsonian American Art Museum has articles of interest to art historians.

Oriental Institute Virtual Museum
The Oriental Institute Museum is a showcase of the history, art and archaeology of the ancient Near East. The Museum exhibits major collections of antiquities from Egypt, Mesopotamia, Iran, Syria, Palestine, and Anatolia. The Oriental Institute Virtual Museum makes use of a series of Apple QuickTime VR panoramic movies to take you on an tour of each of the Museum’s galleries, accompanied by descriptions of each alcove and their artifacts. Where appropriate, links to related materials, such as the Museum’s Highlights From The Collections, the Photographic Archives, and relevant Oriental Institute Archaeology and Philology projects elaborate on the most significant objects in greater detail.

U.S. History.org 
The Independence Hall Association in Philadelphia has produced this fun and engaging site where you can enjoy a virtual tour of Philadelphia and visit Betsy Ross’ House. You can also learn why Pennsylvania is misspelled on the bell and the story of the crack. Electric Franklin provides resources for you to explore the diversity that was Benjamin Franklin and there are several section that deal with the revolutionary war.

Pilgrim Hall Museum
Through its exhibition of Pilgrim possessions and Native American artifacts, Pilgrim Hall tells the stories of America’s founding and traditions. The museum features an online tour of artifacts owned by Pilgrims. Tour the PILGRIM STORY, which combines artifacts with historical information to illuminate the Pilgrim and Native American story to 1692, when Plymouth Colony as an independent entity came to an end.Beyond the Pilgrim Story gives additional information about particular aspects of the Pilgrim story that have been of interest to visitors.

Turning the Pages
Turning the Pages enables visitors to virtually “turn” the pages of manuscripts using touch-screen technology and animation.

Historical Tour of the White House
It is not possible to take a complete, interactive tour of the White House. Different rooms feature videos and photos.

Britannia Virtual Tours
Britannia’s Virtual Tours will take you to some of the most interesting places in England and Wales and in the process help you to gain a better understanding of an area, its famous people, its landmarks and its history.

Vatican Museums, Vatican City 
This site offers online tours of the collections of art and antiquities at the Vatican museums. Collections include the Gregorian Egyptian and Etruscan Museums, Raphael’s Rooms, the Pinacoteca (Art Gallery), and the Ethnological Missionary Museum. Visitors can examiner various rooms in the Vatican, including the Sistine Chapel. Visitors may also take a virtual tour of each room.

Mr. Dowling’s Electronic Passport
Mr. Dowling’s Electronic Passport helps kids browse the world in his virtual classroom. He introduces you to many civilizations with clear explanations, engaging graphics for kids, and “cool links”. His study guides, homework assignments and exams are free and available for you to print or to edit.

Forum Romanum
A nineteen year old freshman at Harvard has put together an award-winning site on Ancient Rome that includes a virtual tour, a dictionary of Mythology, a Picture Index, and much information on History, Life, Language, and Literature

Virtual Jamestown
The Virtual Jamestown Archive is an on-going digital research, teaching and learning project that explores the legacies of the Jamestown settlement and “the Virginia experiment.” There are first-hand accounts and letters, interpretive essays, and more.

Pyramids — The Inside Story (PBS)
This attractive PBS site provides a nice blend of images and history of the pyramids and offers insights into excavations and mysteries.

Virtual Tour Around a Medieval Town and Village
“You are a fantastic inventor who has created a magnificent TIME MACHINE. You set the dates for the time of the dinosaurs, but due to a mechanical fault the machine has crash landed in the MIDDLE AGES. Your task is to find the missing pieces of the time machine which have been scattered around this area. When you have found all of the missing pieces, you must then get back to the machine to return home. You should have a worksheet to help you with this.”

Tramline Virtual Tours with Tour Maker
This website contains virtual tours for both history and science classes. We have found that the ones below would be great resources for history or social studies classes.

  • American Presidency (9-12)
  • September 11 and Beyond (8-12)
  • Dark Ages (5-8)
  • Lewis and Clark (4-8)
  • My America (4-7)
  • The Oregon Trail (4-8)
  • Women’s History (9-12)

Google Earth

Google Earth allows you to transport your class to any location in the world instantly. Cities, terrain, monuments, museums and historic locations can be viewed instantly and in three dimensions. By using Google Earth in the classroom, your students will be able to develop a better understanding of spatial relationship when learning about historic events. Instead of simply looking at a static paper based map from a textbook, students can now virtually travel to the locations mentioned in primary source documents, literature and their textbook. To get started using Google Earth, download the free application and begin to review some of the helpful resources listed below.

Google Earth Helpful Resources


Google Earth Basics for K-12 Education Tutorial Part I

The links below will take you to the rest of the five part series.

Google Lit Trips

While Google Lit Trips may be geared towards a English classroom, the resources available on the Google Lit Trips web site are applicable to a Social Studies classroom. Google Lit Trips combines literature and Google Earth to create a virtual tour of the locations that are mentioned in the book. Each Lit Trip is a file that can be downloaded from the site and will run within Google Earth. Review the “Basics of Viewing” document before you get started. The site is organized by grade level and some applicable titles with Google Lit Trips include:

Google Lit Trips Video Tutorial (Part I)

Google Lit Trips Video Tutorial (Part 2)