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  5. Are virtual insight visits an effective way of engaging learners and supporting student retention in distance learning environments?

Are virtual insight visits an effective way of engaging learners and supporting student retention in distance learning environments?

Project leader(s): 
David Conway, Christine Gardner and Janet Hughes
Academic Services and STEM

It is accepted that insight visits have wide ranging benefits to students including reinforcing and expanding upon taught learning, improved ability to relate theory to practice, encouragement of collaborative learning and enhancement of motivation. Subsequently this enhances teaching and learning, student support and employability, all fundamental parts within student experience (Universities UK, 2016).

Learners often choose distance learning (DL) due to its flexibility and potential to fit around their circumstances. Typically, DL environments involve large numbers of students across a vast geographical location. Learners often have competing priorities for time such as work and childcare. Furthermore, many have physical or mental disabilities and social economic issues. These issues are clearly seen in the School of Computing and Communications (C&C) at stage 1. For example, in module TM111 24% of students are identified as from deprived areas.

As insight visits can only be offered to a limited number at a specific location, traditional insight visits do not meet the needs of the majority of DL students so inevitably have small impact.

Advances in information and communications technologies mean it is now possible to design and implement interactive Virtual Insight Visits (VIV) at low cost where students online can gain many of the same benefits as attending traditional insight visits. Despite this, the concepts of VIV have not been exploited to their full potential. Typically, virtual insight experiences involve only chat boxes which limit interaction with the environment being viewed. For example, NASA virtual visits are simply a video conference between a presenter discussing a specific topic and the audience.

The aim of this project is to investigate if a VIV to either The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC) ( or Bletchley Park ( using the Stadium Live platform currently used in Fieldcast, Labcast and Student Hub Live events is an effective method of exposing students to real world environments. Each location is interested working with us to pilot the concept at its museum.

The objectives of the project are to:

  • Explore and evaluate the design, implementation and delivery process of a VIV (how can the concept be improved?)
  • Investigate the opportunities and limitations of a VIV (how much value do they provide?)

Evaluate VIV’s impact through attendee numbers, associated cost per student and attendees’ feedback.

Conway, D., Gardner, C. and Hughes, J. (2019) project poster (PDF)

Conway, D., Gardner, C. and Hughes, J (2020) Are virtual insight visits an effective way to engage learners? Best poster winner at the 9th eSTEeM Annual Conference, 29-30 April 2020. (PPT)

Are virtual insight visits an effective way of engaging learners? Video produced for the Architecture Media Politics Society (AMPS) April 2021 Virtual Conference, Online Education: Teaching in a Time of Change. 21-23 April.