What's the difference between a virtual field trip and just showing some pictures or a video in class? The purpose or objective. When a lesson's objective calls for student engagement in a visual way, for artistic inspiration or even comprehension, for research or inquiry, for contextual immersion––it's time to plan a virtual field trip.
Virtual field trips are means of satisfying some curiosity visually. The student wants to be there-- wherever "there" is. Perhaps the setting of a novel, its atmosphere or locale, are crucial to understanding the broader implications of the text. Or maybe there is a place--a museum, the home of an author, the site of some great battle--where students could great comprehend the context. This is where I envision a virtual field trip becoming useful. For example, a class in American literature approaches Ethan Frome, the great neo-gothic work of Edith Wharton, heavily dependent upon its oppressive New England winter setting. Students in this case could trek across the web to view New England society around the turn-of-the-century, examining its Puritanical roots, viewing the log cabins and horse-drawn sleds, watching town-meet dances, and so on. It would be especially useful to provide visions of stark black trees and endless white snowfields that the titular character is trapped in. How might these students, after taking in their fill of these sights, compare this atmospheric novel with the Brothers Grimm fairy tales? which nearly always take place in some cabin in dark woods. Virtual field trips are not some useless diversion to keep a classroom feeling technologically adapted and modern. They should always serve a purpose, especially when visual appreciation is necessary to understanding. In the English classroom at upper grade levels, virtual field trips provide visuals in biographical information, atmosphere, society, traditions, and otherwise intangible characteristics of a text.
And, if I can't find what I'm looking for in a single Google search, what's stopping me from creating one myself?