According to Stainfield et al. (2000), a virtual field trip has three main characteristics:
- Allowing observations to be made without being on the actual site or having a lecturer at hand to explain,
- Allowing interaction with the virtual environment through participation, exploration, analysis, and learning and testing of skills both old and new,
- And allowing interaction at its best.
Virtual tools also exist to increase student participation. Learning through virtual excursions has two main components: student autonomy and interactivity.
In contrast, a guided virtual field trip, such as the one created in partnership with the Virt’Ex project at the University of Hamburg and the University of Paris City, allows students to walk through the eco-neighborhood of Bretigny sur orge, a district in the suburbs of Paris. Students can follow an itinerary or explore freely in the space through an interactive map, move around in 360-degree panoramas, or view photos. The tasks dedicated to students are not limited to observation.
Finally, an open virtual field trip is exemplified by the “Do-it-yourself on the field” project, which took place during the spring 2020 confinement in France with third-year undergraduate students. The project aimed to get the students out of their homes and help them develop a new perspective on a place close to home. It relied on free and online tools such as Qgis and umap to allow all students to participate in one-hour outings within a one-kilometer radius.