‘Technology Enhanced Learning’ takes off in Landscape

Landscape students have been using a drone to take aerial photography

Students from the Department of Landscape have been getting to grips with new technologies in their modules – including a drone and a digital treasure hunt app – as part of a drive by the department to enrich student learning using cutting edge software and equipment.

The technology drive was instigated by the department’s learning and teaching committee and implemented by Learning Technologist Paul Buck. Paul worked closely with module leaders to ensure students would experience using a wide range of technologies across different modules.

It has so far seen Landscape students using the digital treasure hunt app ‘Actionbound’ on field trips to Loxley Valley and Neepsend; a ‘drone’ (Unmanned Aerial Vechicle) for aerial photography and mapping exercises; and a 360-degree camera to create interactive maps in Google street view.

Paul feels that Landscape Architecture is well placed as a discipline to use new and developing technologies and is keen to stress that these work as a complement to, not replacement for, traditional skills like sketching and observation.

“The technology drive stemmed from our learning and teaching review – we had a comprehensive look at exactly what resources were available to staff and how we could best use these to enhance student experience,” he said. “It’s useful for students to experience using things like the drone and 360° camera, as it keeps them up to date with new trends and technologies used in industry.”

“As a Learning Technologist I always get excited when I can experiment with new technology, but these are far more than flashy toys. All the bits of tech have the ability to enhance the study and practice of Landscape Architecture. Actionbound, for example, lets students combine traditional ‘analogue’ skills of the site survey – photography, sketches, habitat survey – with new digital techniques.”

“The 360° camera allows landscapes to be experienced virtually, which can be used in instances where it is not feasible for an entire group of students to visit, or in the case of the Loxley Valley site, it’s not time effective for students to make multiple visits. Having this resource allows limitless ‘visits’ for the student to explore and conduct a thorough site survey.”

Students using the Actionbound app

University teacher Thom White used the Actionbound app to set up a digital treasure hunt – A Walk on the Wild Side – for first year students on his Dynamic Landscape module. Students earned points for answering questions and completing a series of tasks that guided them through the Loxley Valley. Tasks included taking photos of landmarks, answering questions based on locations, sketching cross sections of views and marking on maps where certain features appeared in the landscape.

The students also completed a second ‘bound’ on an interdisciplinary project with the Departments of Mechanical and Civil Engineering in the Sheffield suburb of Neepsend.

5th Year student Sophie Entwhistle said: “Actionbound was a lot of fun and allowed us to get familiar with a site without really realising it. It focussed us on certain, potentially important aspects of the site that helped later on in the project, when coming up with the vision. It also put our map reading and teamwork skills to the test. (Not to mention our selfie-taking abilities!)”

“The app was also a great ice breaker; we only had two days to complete this project and nobody knew any of the students from the other departments. This app allowed us to not only get to know the site quickly but also each other and to do both simultaneously in a relatively short space of time.”

“I think the app has a lot of potential to be a really interactive teaching tool providing the opportunity for teamwork, wayfinding, gaining a sense of place and arguably most importantly it is engaging and fun to use; something that I don’t think should be under-estimated when meeting new people and exploring new places.”

Drone

As well as Actionbound, some Landscape students have been learning how to fly and operate a DJI Phantom 4 Pro drone that the department purchased for documenting landscapes. As legal restrictions apply to the use of drones, students also learn about how to use these safely and legally – keeping 50m away from people and property, for example, and working in teams to ‘spot’ the drone.

Paul said: “the drone provides us with a flexible, low cost platform for near range imagery and photography. We can use Google aerial maps in some instances, but they are low resolution and can’t be used to pick out vegetation, whereas those from the drone can.”

Recent graduate Ngaire Burston used the UAV to document Whinfell Quarry Gardens in Sheffield, during her Sheffield Undergraduate Research project to restore the derelict flagstone site.

Teaching and research has also benefited from a number of newly purchased Richoh Theta 360-degree cameras. The camera allows images to be taken at a 360-degree arc, which captures a far more detailed and accurate record of the site. This can then be used to virtually explore areas and can help with design work. Paul has used the 360° camera in Loxley Valley site, to create an interactive, immersive ‘walk’, by embedding the images in Google street view.

Image Map

Red Route A
Red Route B

Purple Route A
Purple Route B

Orange Route A
Orange Route B

Blue Route A
Blue Route B

Turquoise
Route A

Turquoise
Route B

Green Route

The University of Sheffield has a hub for Technology Enhanced Learning that supports work and offers advice on how technology can be used to enhance teaching and learning for both curricular and co-curricular activities. Their annual event ‘TELFest’, draws on expertise from colleagues across the University to deliver a wide range of talks, workshops and discussions, designed to help academic and teaching staff make the most of technology to enrich learning and teaching.

Paul added: “We want to continue improving technology provision for our students. We are researching the possibility of using advanced software for capturing 3D images to create high-resolution 3D terrain modules of areas, which would have scope for plant identification and recording seasonal change. There’s loads of potential for development.”

You can read Paul's blog New Adventures in Technology Enhanced Fieldwork here.