May 12, 2022

Virtual Field Trips to the Zoo: A Chance to Explore

Kai XR

When you think of common field trip destinations, zoos are probably at the top of your list, right alongside local history museums and art galleries. After all, zoo field trips are a great way for students to learn about the animal kingdom, get outside, and have fun. But zoo field trips can be inaccessible. Many students don’t live within easy driving distance of a zoo. What’s more, field trips to the zoo can be very expensive. Average zoo tickets cost between $8 and $13, a total that can add up quickly — and that’s not to mention the cost of buses or meals, or the difficulty of finding chaperones. All of those challenges can make alternative field trips appealing. Virtual field trips to the zoo are a great way to get the benefits of zoo field trips (and more) without the time, difficulty, or expense. 

In this article, we’ll explore those benefits and more. Specifically, we’ll answer the following questions:

  • What are virtual zoo field trips? 
  • What are the benefits of virtual field trips to the zoo? 
  • How can you make use of animal virtual field trips? 
Image source: Cesar Aguilar @ Pexels

What are virtual zoo field trips? 

The definition of a virtual zoo field trip might sound self-evident. But each of these terms — virtual, zoo, and field trip — deserves further exploration. There are many different kinds of virtual field trips to the zoo, ranging from immersive tours of real-life zoos to animal virtual field trips that focus on interacting closely with a specific animal.

What are virtual field trips?

Perhaps the most unfamiliar element of the term “virtual zoo field trip” is virtual. After all, virtual field trips are a relatively new phenomenon, and the potential uses of virtual reality (VR) in the classroom are vast and ever-expanding. 

Broadly speaking, virtual field trips describe experiences that meet the following criteria:

  1. Virtual field trips involve immersive experiences with augmented or virtual reality that take place in the digital world of the metaverse.
  2. Virtual field trips include some sort of educational experience for students of any age. 

That’s it! Beyond those two descriptors, virtual field trips can encompass a broad set of immersive programs. They can support classrooms of various ages, from virtual field trips for kindergarten to educational VR for high school students, and can cover a variety of topics, from social studies to science. 

Just take a look at these examples of real virtual field trips offered by Kai XR to get a sense of the possibilities of virtual field trips: 

  • Students go on a free virtual field trip using a VR headset to tour the White House with Michelle and Barack Obama, learning about the branches of government, the job responsibilities of the president, and how the building has evolved with different presidents. Afterwards, they answer questions about what they learned on the tour.
  • Students explore the life and career of Tiera, an aerospace engineer with NASA. They learn about her work designing Mars space missions, building their understanding of STEM-related career paths and learning about equity in scientific workplaces. 
  • Students take a virtual field trip to the Malaysian Rainforest, where they meet with elderly residents and learn about modern problems with deforestation and palm oil agriculture. The virtual field trip gives them exposure to other cultures and other countries that they would otherwise be unable to visit. 

Virtual field trips to the zoo are a subcategory of all virtual field trips. Virtual field trips to the zoo are just what they sound like: immersive virtual experiences that teach students about zoos, bring them face to face with exotic animals, or teach them about endangered species. 

Image Source: Jimmy Chan @ Pexels

What are the benefits of virtual zoo field trips?

Virtual zoo field trips have many benefits, ranging from the educational to the social. Here are just a few of the possible reasons why educators might want to bring educational VR to their classrooms and zoo field trips:

  1. Virtual zoo field trips can create closer relationships with animals and support pro-environmental attitudes. 
  2. Virtual zoo field trips allow students to see animals they wouldn’t see at most zoos.
  3. Virtual zoo field trips can incorporate additional educational content and enhance students’ learning experiences.
  4. Virtual zoo field trips can be more accessible and cost-effective than alternatives — in fact, there are many free virtual zoo field trips.
  5. Virtual zoo field trips can serve as a complement to or preparation for in-person field trips to the zoo. 

Some of these benefits of virtual zoo field trips are shared with real life, in-person zoo field trips. Other benefits, like accessibility, are unique to virtual field trips to the zoo.

Virtual zoo field trips promote environmentalism

Given the ongoing threats of climate change and global warming, it’s essential that students — the leaders of the future — develop an understanding of why saving the planet is so important. With that in mind, both in-person and virtual zoo field trips can help students develop pro-environmental attitudes. 

One University of Stirling study of over 130 middle school students found that both “in-nature” and “virtual-nature” field trips can give students’ comparable educational experiences and “nurture student pro-environmentalism.” Connecting with nature helps students develop environmental values, building care and concern for the planet. In fact, the study indicates that spending time engaging with nature is the most significant factor that influences people to advocate for the environment. 

Other research from the University of Stirling in Scotland focused even more specifically on virtual zoo field trips. The researchers found that virtual field trips were useful for both adolescent students (ages 13 to 18) and adults, all of whom felt that VR experiences gave them more personal connections to zoo animals. 

Some animal virtual field trips go even further, teaching kids specifically about environmentalism and what they can do to help endangered species. For example, Kai XR offers virtual field trips about ocean pollution and wildlife protection. In our “The Ocean is Broken” experience, students use virtual reality to explore the ocean and learn about overfishing and human impacts on the environment. In the “Helping Wildlife” experience, students meet with scientists who work to preserve local wildlife. Both of these virtual field trips can easily be paired with discussion questions and additional learning activities to help students further build their environmental consciousness.

Image Source: Johnny Lew @ Pexels

Virtual zoo field trips are more realistic

It might sound like an oxymoron to say that virtual zoo field trips can be more realistic than in-person ones. But virtual field trips allow you to get up close and personal with animals, seeing them in their natural environment. Whereas in-person zoo field trips always maintain a separation between student and animal, virtual zoo field trips allow students to interact closely with the animals in question, without the barrier of a cage or enclosure. 

The 2021 University of Stirling study also found that this is one of the main benefits of using educational VR in zoo contexts. Being able to interact so closely with animals is both more entertaining and more educational. Just listen to what some study participants had to say about their free virtual zoo field trip experience:

  • “I thought it was very informative. It was very good to be able to look around and actually see them close up. I guess it seems more personal.”
  • “You get a lot more information about them, I think it can make the visit more interesting.”
  • “They look more natural in the video.”
  • “You see more because it is more true to life than an enclosed environment here.”

Imagine not just seeing a lion in a cage, but being able to travel with and stand among a pride of lions in the savannah. Imagine not just watching a zebra at the zoo, but running with them during their annual migration. Imagine safely getting face to face with a grizzly bear or an elephant. These are the kinds of experiences that a virtual zoo field trip makes possible.

Virtual zoo field trips can go even further, enabling students to meet with animals that they couldn’t see at a zoo at all. Some animals simply cannot be kept in zoos — for example, deep-sea creatures or extinct animals. Virtual zoo field trips, by contrast, let students interact with creatures that humans never get to see in person. Kai XR offers virtual field trips to explore the Great Barrier Reef and meet the Giraffatitan Dinosaur — experiences you wouldn’t have at any zoo, no matter how close you could get to the animals. 

Virtual zoo field trips can go beyond in-person experiences, providing students with valuable entertainment and knowledge.

Virtual zoo field trips enhance learning experiences

In-person zoo field trips are usually lots of fun, but they aren’t always the most educational experiences. Classrooms are constrained by the resources the zoo has to offer, and it can be difficult to provide a curated experience targeted to specific educational goals and standards. Chaperones are often more focused on keeping track of classrooms than they are on providing an enriching educational experience. By contrast, virtual zoo field trips can focus more specifically on certain learning standards, encouraging content knowledge in addition to student enjoyment. 

One study of 211 eighth grade students investigated how virtual and in-person field trips help students learn about biology and ecology. During both the in-person and virtual trips, students explored a local trial and conducted fieldwork. The researchers found that the in-person and virtual version had only “minute differences” in student knowledge acquisition, and that both experiences helped students develop skills for future assessments. They noted that virtual experiences allowed students to focus on developing specific skills relevant to the instructional content, with fewer distracting elements.

While virtual zoo field trips might have the most obvious relevance for science classes, they can also help students learn about other content areas. For example, a recent study investigated the use of a virtual zoo field trip to promote Chinese language learning. The researchers leveraged students’ love of animals to teach vocabulary and pronunciation, using the medium of a virtual zoo field trip to motivate language development. The results showed that the free zoo virtual field trip had a significant impact on the students’ language performance, highlighting the broad applicability of these virtual field trips. 

Virtual zoo field trips are more accessible

From both a physical and economic standpoint, virtual zoo field trips tend to be more accessible than in-person alternatives. One of the major benefits of virtual field trips is that they can be accessible to all kinds of students who might not be able to go on an in-person animal field trip, including:

  1. Students with mobility restrictions
  2. Students with severe allergies
  3. Immunocompromised students
  4. Students in remote learning settings
  5. Students with other special needs

This is especially true of virtual zoo field trips. Trips to the zoo, while fun, can be inaccessible for a variety of reasons: maybe your school isn’t located anywhere near a zoo, or maybe the local zoo is too expensive, or maybe the zoo is an overly stimulating or otherwise physically inaccessible environment. Zoo trips can also be very expensive, especially for whole classrooms: one researcher estimated that an in-person zoo field trip could cost upwards of $600 for a classroom of 25 students, not counting the lost instructional value due to long transit times and bus trips. By contrast, there are many free zoo virtual field trips. Even paid virtual field trips to the zoo tend to be much cheaper than the in-person alternative because of travel costs. 

Virtual zoo field trips are also much less of a logistical hassle: because they can occur in the classroom and during the course of a normal school day, educators don’t have to deal with the stress of finding a time that works for everyone, taking students out of other classes, obtaining transportation, finding chaperones, and all the other tasks that usually make in-person field trips so complicated.

Virtual field trips to the zoo can complement in-person zoo field trips

In-person and virtual options don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Rather, virtual zoo field trips can serve as preparation for or a complement to an in-person learning component. In fact, the existing literature explains that in order to maximize the benefits of in-person field trips, students should be adequately prepared beforehand and should receive relevant additional instruction that reinforces their knowledge after the field trip. 

Virtual zoo field trips can form part of the preparation and after-the-fact learning enhancement for field trips to in-person zoos. Students may appreciate their visit to a lion or zoo enclosure more if they’ve learned something about lions or flamingos beforehand. Understanding these animals’ natural habitats, eating habits, group structures, and more can keep students more invested in the learning experience, and can transform a field trip from a fun day at the zoo to a deeply enriching and rewarding visit.  

Image Source: Mark Cooper @ Pexels

Virtual Zoo Field Trip Case Studies

Clearly, virtual field trips at the zoo can be enjoyable and educational experiences for students. So how do you get started with animal virtual field trips? 

Thankfully, there are already dozens of options to explore when it comes to virtual zoo field trips. Kai XR offers many animal-centric virtual field trips that are accessible from most kinds of wireless devices, like tablets, laptops, smartphones, and VR headsets. These virtual field trips are appropriate for kids of all ages, and can serve as a great way to bring VR into the classroom

To name just a few of the many options:

  1. Students can go on a virtual field trip with a professional biologist to learn about rhinos and how they are facing extinction. 
  2. Students can travel with African penguins to explore this endangered species in their native environment.
  3. Students can dive underwater and snorkel through the Great Barrier Reef, identifying underwater species. 
  4. Students can discover the disappearing oases of the Sahara desert and listen to people’s experiences with desertification and climate change.
  5. Students can relax with some pink flamingos at the San Diego Zoo while exploring the fields of health and science.
  6. Students can have a playful experience at the Puppy Bowl and get a sense of what the world looks like from a puppy’s perspective.
  7. Students can get a close look at a pack of wolves and how they interact with each other when they’re in their natural environment. 
  8. Students can tour Valeen’s Reef alongside a father and son who are working to protect the delicate ecosystem. 
  9. Students can safely spend time swimming with a hammerhead shark while wearing their VR headsets.

All of these virtual field trips with animals and more are easily accessible on Kai XR’s website. Many of them come with viewing guides and discussion questions to enhance the learning experience. 

So what are you waiting for? Start exploring virtual zoo field trips today! And if you want to learn more, consider checking out these other articles: 

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