Funding opportunities

The Science and Design of Virtual Field Trips

Faculty, staff, and students across all disciplines proposed concept-proving research and designs that advance learning in the area of virtual field trips.


Virtual field trips can broaden access to locations and experiences for many students. They also may help mitigate inequities due to cost and accessibility. Advances in technology have greatly improved virtual experiences and reduced challenges associated with creating them. Interactive 360° immersive experiences, for example, can be created using just a cell phone and some simple online tools. These advances open opportunities for educators and students to create virtual field trips that embed locally or personally meaningful contexts.

The science and design behind how to structure activities to create engaging and effective virtual field trips is lagging behind technology growth. Virtual field trips have the potential to support learning by increasing learner connectedness, whether to the land, to a phenomenon, or to other people. Highest priority was given to projects that included both a research and development component, incorporated interactive elements either within or surrounding the field trip, and explore the potential special qualities of virtual field trips.


Applications are currently closed

2021 Awardees (Faculty)

Tracking socio-ecological recovery after forest fire: The case of Big Basin

Natural disasters like the CZU Lightning Complex fire that devastated Big Basin Redwoods State Park and surrounding communities in 2020 have pushed questions about the human-nature relationship to the fore, prompting us to examine the connections between environmental learning and connection to place in a rapidly changing world. In partnership with California State Parks, this project will use Big Basin VFTs pre- and post-fire to (a) aid people in addressing their feelings about the fire and Big Basin and, in the process (b) gain insight into human emotional connections to place and nature, as well as how that influences (fire and climate) narratives and behavioral choices, and also to (c) educate virtual visitors about the role of fire in forest ecosystems as well as better prepare them with the climate-literacy knowledge, attitudes, skills, and behaviors to discuss and address such topics productively. 

Principal Investigator: Nicole Ardoin, Associate Professor of Education and Senior Fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment Project team: Anna Lee (graduate student, Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources, Stanford), Alison Bowers (Consulting Researcher, Social Ecology Lab, Stanford), Veronica Lin (Stanford), Brandon Reynante (Stanford).

Enhancing First Person Perspective for Learning in Virtual Field Trips

We will develop and test a virtual field trip interface that supports engagement by a) employing learners’ body motions as the navigational input to drive the visual and auditory experience of exploring the environment, and b) including first person perspective video of key activities taking place in the space.

Principal Investigator: Larry Leifer, Professor, Mechanical Engineering Project team: Dr Rebecca Currano (Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Mechanical Engineering), Dr David Sirkin (Research Associate, Mechanical Engineering)

Sustainability and (deep) geologic time…An amazing journey to help us understand our place and time on Earth

Grasping the concept of geologic time or “Deep Time” can fundamentally transform the way a person sees and lives in the world. Northwestern Nevada lies in our geologic back yard and provides one of the best places to teach and contemplate deep time at the introductory level. Here, earth’s history is so clearly writ across the landscape that non-geologists can see the evidence for the extreme changes that occurred from the peak of the last ice age, only some 20 thousand years ago to the present day. There is perhaps no better way to understand the context and nature of human life on earth than to learn about our unique and very recent place in the history of earth.

Principal Investigator: Elizabeth Miller, Professor of Geological Sciences Project team: Jason Craig (graduate student, Geological Sciences, Stanford), Brenda Razo (filmmaker/videographer), Andy Wengst (filmmaker/videographer)

Sites of Slavery

Enslaved pasts of the Cape of Good Hope (ca. 1658-1838) in what is now South Africa are much less well known than other histories of enslavement, and remain still relatively obscure in South Africa. Our plan is to render relevant historical sites publicly legible via multimedia aimed at South African school learners, in accordance with schools curricula, as well as site visitors. This initiative will involve both a website and smart phone app, in which images are combined with interpretive material.

Principal Investigator: Grant Parker, Associate Professor, Classics Project team: Shanaaz Gallant (curator of Iziko Slave Lodge), Dillon Gisch (graduate student, Department of Classics and Stanford Archaeology Center), Gerald Groenewald (Professor of History, University of Johannesburg), Jonathan Jansen (Professor of Education, Stellenbosch University), Stefania Manfio (graduate student, Department of Anthropology and Stanford Archaeology Center), Paul Weinberg (independent photographer, curator and archivist)

Conversational Learning with Learner-Created Virtual Environmental Field Trips

Our project aims to develop a new model for how students, educators, or community members can become creators of virtual reality 360 field trip content, to provide their audiences the sense of shared adventure common to physical field trips, and to also have learning conversations anchored in specific aspects of the media within their virtual field trips (VFTs). To achieve these goals, we will integrate uses of consumer media tools which work across desktop and mobile computers to enable ‘guided noticing’ functions for pointing to and annotating media resources to provide VFT makers and learners the dialogical capabilities for knowledge building with one another as they experience VFTs. The themes for discourse will be centered on issues of climate change, which will be facilitated by offering learners a curated library of VFTs on topics which they will remix to create learning conversations with each other. Our research thus seeks to: (1) integrate media tools to empower learner-created virtual field trips, and subsequently, to (2) facilitate meaningful learning conversations on issues of climate change between learners with peers (and family members) with remixed VFT resources.

Principal Investigator: Roy Pea, Professor, Graduate School of Education and (by courtesy) Computer Science Project team: Aditya Vishwanath, (graduate student, Learning Sciences and Technology Design, Graduate School of Education), Jeremy Bailenson (Professor, Department of Communication), Nicole Ardoin (Associate Professor of Education and Senior Fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment)

Reading the Book of Earth’s History

Sedimentary rocks are the archive of Earth’s history—they tell us about how mountains have risen and fallen, the evolution of life, and changing climates. However, stratigraphic concepts do not come intuitively to many students, especially in orienting themselves to a rock outcrop. This project will design a new approach to teaching introductory sedimentary geology–centered around a Virtual Field Trip (VFT) to arctic Canada–and test its efficacy in teaching students the basic principles of sedimentology and stratigraphy.

Principal Investigator: Erik Sperling, Assistant Professor of Geological Sciences. Project team: Lucy Webb (graduate student, School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Science/Department of Geological Sciences), Ryan Petterson (School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Science/Dean’s Office), Maurice Colpron (Yukon Geological Survey)

Project VVRMA (Virtual CCRMA): Adventures in Computer Music Land!

VVRMA is a VR re-imagining of CCRMA, Stanford’s computer music research center. Aimed for a general audience, VVRMA is a place where visitors can experientially learn about the science and art of computer music — including music perception, acoustics and signal processing, instrument design, networked audio, and VR itself as a medium for expression and creativity.

Principal Investigator: Ge Wang, Associate Professor of Music and, by courtesy, of Computer Science Project Team: Kunwoo Kim (graduate student, Music / CCRMA, Stanford), Stanford VR Design Lab @ CCRMA

2021 Awardees (Lecturers and Staff)

Virtual dives and data collection in the kelp forests of Monterey Bay

Kelp forests along the west coast of North America are ecologically and economically important ecosystems, but only a select few students have access due to the logistical, financial, and physical constraints associated with cold-water diving. To increase equity and access in marine science, the aim of this project is to create a repository of virtual field trips and videos that can be used by students anywhere to learn the natural history and participate in the long-term monitoring of kelp forests in Monterey Bay.

Project lead: Robin Elahi, Lecturer, Biology, Hopkins Marine Station Project team: Chris Garsha (Senior Science and Engineering Technician, Stanford)

Exchange Student Experiences for Everyone

The magic of student exchange experiences is in their ability to profoundly expand our worldviews, shape our sensitivity toward other cultures, and develop a more nuanced awareness of our own cultures. What if we used the idea of a virtual field trip as inspiration to create student exchange experiences that many more students could access and benefit from around the world? This project will address this opportunity of how we might help educators – and students – to create virtual student exchange programs that enable students around the world to go on field trips to each other’s locations, learn a bit about each other’s lives and locations, and perhaps come away with a new perspective on one’s own place in the world. Specifically, this project will both: 1) develop “starter experiences” of virtual student exchange that educators and students can use out-of-the-box, and 2) develop a framework that educators and students can use to design their virtual student exchange experiences.

Project lead: Glenn Fajardo, Lecturer, Project team: Carissa Carter, Academic Director,

ACED: Accelerating Creative Empathic Design Through Virtual Building Field Trips

How can we know that a future building will not only comply with The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements, but be as welcoming and enjoyable for a person in a wheelchair as it is for people without disabilities? This requires an empathic design mindset, in addition to novel toolset and skillset. How can Virtual Field Trips in building models Accelerate Creative Empathic Design (ACED) and advance project-based learning? The vision of the ACED concept-proving project is to design and study STEM learner’s transformative journey from emotional and cognitive empathy experiences gained through virtual field trips in building models, to developing an empathic design mindset.

Project lead: Renate Fruchter, Director of PBL Lab, Sr Research Engineer, Civil and Environmental Engineering

2021 Awardees (Students)

Working Trees

Working Trees – a company incubated at Stanford – has a mission to deploy trees where the interests of farmers and the climate overlap. They are developing a technology solution that democratizes access to carbon markets for landowners of all sizes by leveraging smartphone LiDAR, satellite remote sensing data, and machine learning models. The starting focus is on the potential for establishing trees on pasture land in the US Southeast; the virtual field trip will allow producers from all over to ‘attend’ the 2022 planting for pilot producers.

Project lead: John Foye, MBA student, Stanford Graduate School of Business and Masters Student in Environment and Resources Project team: Aakash Ahamed (Stanford PhD Geophysics)

A VR “Museum-of-you” to Foster Positive Teacher-Student Relationships

The quality of a teacher-student relationship is a key component to students achieving an authentic sense of school belonging and motivation to engage in classroom learning. Middle school teachers and their students will develop and will share with each other their own virtual field trip museum of themselves. We hope that this activity will foster a more inclusive and welcoming classroom context by shifting teachers and students to focus on shared similarities. Channeling students to experience the classrooms in a more trusting and personable manner, we predict, will initiate a recursive process of positive interactions that can lead to increased school achievement and potentially long-term changes to students educational pathways.

Project lead: Steve Juarez, PhD student, Stanford Graduate School of Education, DAPS Project team: Dr Teresa LaFromboise (Professor, Graduate School of Education), Dr. Geoffrey Cohen (Professor, Psychology & Graduate School of Education)

Experiential Differences in Virtual vs. Physical Outdoor Sounds Installations

This project will compare the impact of medium on outdoor sound installations for both listeners and composers. A site-specific installation will be designed and adapted for three formats: physical, screen-based virtual, and headset VR

Project lead: Julia Mills, Master of Arts Student in Music

Hidden Herbarium - A Trip to Stanford’s Plant Collection

Herbariums are underutilized archives of natural history. We plan to create a virtual interactive field trip of Jasper Ridge’s herbarium, targeting college students, to increase awareness of herbariums and their importance to society. Students will explore the herbarium space with interactive media such as: videos of the process, pictures of plants, and brief history of herbariums. We hope to give students agency over their learning and increase ways to connect to the natural world.

Project leads: Eugene Tang, Masters Student in Mechanical Engineering, Vicky Zhao Chan, Learning Design and Technology Master’s student, Graduate School of Education