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The Benefit of Adding Virtual Field Trips to Online Biology Courses

By Dr. Tricia Keiter
Associate Professor, School of Science and Technology at American Public University

Traditionally, introductory college biology courses have been structured in a manner such that the student is introduced to basic terminology and concepts by means of standardized textbooks, lab experiments and examination-based assessments. At American Public University System, we desire to make the biology experience much more engaging for our students, and we will be doing this by way of incorporating virtual field trips into the curriculum.

As part of these field trips, students will be encouraged to visit local national parks, bodies of water, ecological environments, or even their very own backyards to observe indigenous species and their behaviors. During these outdoor excursions, students will be asked to follow an organism of their choosing, and take photos and/or videos of that organism in its natural habitat. In addition to the field experience, students will also research the biology of the organism in order to determine the many facets of the organism’s ecological impact on its environment, its social behavior, its evolution and adaptations, and other relevant biology. In the students’ culminating projects, they will present a slideshow or video to their instructors and fellow classmates detailing their research and observations.

Intellectual discovery and real-world perspectives shape and enhance the learning experiences of students. By utilizing such field trip experiences, learning is connected to something real and enables students to synthesize traditional classroom activities with real-world experiences as they travel into their outdoor surroundings to observe biology as it exists in their surrounding environment.

[Go here to read a similar post about the rise of online science labs]

In addition to the application and immersion offered by this project, it will contribute to the development of broad-based skills such as technology use, research, communication and writing. And, of course, the student will be afforded the opportunity to appreciate the “study of life” by physically allowing them to make direct observations and documentations of the living world surrounding them.

About the Author:
Dr. Tricia S. Keiter completed her undergraduate studies (B.S. in psychology, 1994) at the University of Florida before earning her doctorate degree in chiropractic from Life University in Marietta, Georgia in 1999. She taught various graduate courses in anatomy, physiology, diagnosis, and radiology while practicing part-time in the Atlanta area from 1999-2001. She then moved to the Tampa Bay area where she practiced chiropractic full time and had served as an adjunct faculty instructor teaching anatomy and physiology at Saint Petersburg College. She has been a proud member of the APUS faculty since January 2004.

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