Enhancing fieldwork through digital learning tools

A group of walkers walking on a muddy hill towards a monumentThis guidance will help you consider how digital learning tools might be used to enhance the fieldwork learning experience. Using digital tools can make fieldwork more accessible and inclusive for a wide range of students, they can add to a more holistic learning experience, and they can also provide ways of engaging with locations that might otherwise be inaccessible.

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Why use digital learning tools?

  • To make fieldwork more accessible, inclusive and equitable
  • To make fieldwork more sustainable (with regards to the environment, conservation, and resourcing)
  • To provide more opportunities for students to develop their fieldwork skills
  • To provide more idealised visits to certain locations, or to locations that are otherwise inaccessible

Supporting learning outcomes with digital enhancements

There are two broad types of field trip:

  1. Where the location is the object of study
  2. Where the location is a context or container for learning activities

There may be situations where the two are combined.

Fieldwork can also be broadly divided up into three main components

  1. Pre-trip preparation
  2. The trip to the location itself
  3. De-brief/post trip activities

Technology can enhance both types of field trip, and all three components.

1. Pre-trip

The learning objectives for the pre-trip phase might include:

  • Orientation to the study area itself - where is it, what will we learn by going there, what kinds of things can we expect to see?
  • Introduction to and practice of key field skills (e.g. surveying, interviewing)
  • Planning the field visit (e.g. experiment design)

How can digital tools enhance this phase?

  • Photographs and rich media can be used to familiarise students with the study area and what they could expect to see.
  • A flipped model could be applied here - videos demonstrating key skills could be shared with students in advance (many of these may already be available online, or you could record one yourself). When students visit the field, they will then be able to practice these skills straight away and make the most of their time in the field.
  • If students are expected to plan some elements of the field trip beforehand, they could do this in groups using collaborative tools online.

Example:

Gardom’s Edge: journeys through a landscape was created using both StoryMaps and RoundMe. It offers students a map and an immersive tour that enables them to become familiar with the site and surroundings prior to a visit.

This is a video made by staff in the Department of Archaeology demonstrating a key fieldwork skill for students. 

2. The actual trip

The learning objectives for the trip itself might include:

  • Observation - what does the place look and feel like?
  • Interaction with the field environment (e.g. excavation, interviewing, measurements, recording)
  • Collaborative working in groups

How can digital tools enhance this phase?

  • Videos of the location could be used if the site is not accessible. If the site is large and students are working on different parts of the site, they could film videos or 360 degree photographs of their locations to share with the rest of the cohort.
  • Digital tools can be used to help guide students around the location, and provide a structured learning experience - for example ActionBound (see example below)

Example:

A field trip to Neepsend was created using the ActionBound app. This app enables you to create a virtual ‘scavenger hunt’ so students can answer questions or solve clues to explore an area individually or in small groups.

3. Debrief/post-trip activities

The learning objectives for this phase might include:

  • Collating information (e.g. if different groups have been working on different aspects/locations)
  • Synthesising information - e.g. producing a report
  • Reflecting on experiences
  • Sharing learning - e.g. presentations

How can digital tools enhance this phase?

Use technology to share and collaborate on the findings - any collaborative technology will work here e.g:

  • Sharing photos.videos on Blackboard/Kaltura
  • Google forms to collaborate on data analysis
  • Google Docs
  • Google sites

Organise some synchronous class time for debrief and reflection, and further synchronous class time for presenting findings.

Example

Fieldwork experiences could be collated into, for example, a Google site, like this example. Students could produce a report, presentation, or reflection based on their experiences.

This example from the Department of Landscape Architecture, using a Google site to provide information on the Botanical Gardens demonstrates one way of collating content.

Virtual/remote fieldwork

There may be some situations in which planned fieldwork cannot take place at all. This was the case during the Covid-19 pandemic, but there may be other situations where a situation in another location changes suddenly (e.g. due to natural disaster, conflicts, border closures). In this case it may be possible to provide a virtual or remote learning experience. These case studies show different approaches that could be used.

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Specific digital tools

360 Cameras

Easy to use and can allow you to create 360° virtual tours and videos
Can be loaned from the Creative Media Service who can be contacted at
creativemedia@sheffield.ac.uk

360° videos can be uploaded into Kaltura. This example is a 360° tour of the Diamond. To navigate within the clip, click and drag in any direction at any time to see a 360° view.

Roundme

Roundme is a tool for creating interactive 360° virtual tours that your students can access online on both desktop and mobile devices. You can use Roundme to create your own virtual tours, and also access a range of tours created by others. We do not currently have an institutional license, but you can use the tool for free, with upload limits.

To use Roundme you will need to do the following:

  1. create one or more 360° images using a 360° camera
  2. create a free account on Roundme
  3. upload and link your images

Please note that Roundme is not officially supported by the University, although it is very easy to use.

Examples of how this tool has been used by staff at the University of Sheffield include:

StoryMaps

ArcGis StoryMaps is a tool that enables you to create immersive ‘stories’ using a combination of interactive maps, multimedia content, and explanatory text. You can create your own stories, and also view those created by others.

Examples of how this has been used in the University of Sheffield include:

Actionbound

Actionbound is a tool for creating digital scavenger hunts, called ‘bounds’ that can be played through the Actionbound app. This is very valuable for guiding students through a field trip experience, and making sure that the learning outcomes and accompanying activities are completed. You can use this either as a way of:

  • managing a whole class of students, divided into smaller groups, or
  • to enable individuals or small groups of students to work independently in a study area, but still ensure the objectives are met.

Examples of how this has been used in the University of Sheffield include:

The following tools can also be used to create content, but are not supported at the University:

Third party content

It is worth thinking about combining existing content with your own to create coherent field work experiences. Maps can be used alongside 360° tours (whether created by yourself or made public by another user). The following may be useful:

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Further information

Useful resources