Reflections on virtual field trips
Read full article [PDF]Field Trips are important elements in many academic programmes. They give students the opportunity to confront their training with a real-world scenario. We undertake an international field trip in Spring, tied to the module Planning for Informality which critically examines informality in a global context. Since 2019, the destination has been Durban, South Africa’s third largest city. There, challenges of planning for informality are considered in one of the largest marketplaces in Sub Saharan Africa, Warwick Junction. We work in partnership with Asiye eTafuleni (AeT), a NGO supporting informal traders in Warwick Junction, and other academics in Durban at Durban University of Technology (DUT) and the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN). The students develop a spatial and contextual understanding of the area. They consider what makes the Warwick Junction area such a vibrant place, that gives access to economic opportunities while still facing significant social and infrastructural challenges.
Travel restrictions were imposed a few weeks before the field trip was due to take place. This, followed by lockdown measures in South Africa, meant that international travel was impossible. We delivered the sad news to our students and partners in South Africa that the trip would not go ahead. More positively, the situation meant that the teaching team had to get creative! We had to rapidly produce an alternative plan, where we used digital tools available through the Blackboard platform to deliver an effective virtual learning experience.
The virtual ‘field trip’ ran over 7 working days in a two-week period, with each day structured around specific themes. These related to particular learning aims that we wanted to achieve, including a general introduction to Warwick Junction, a focus on economic informality and responses to it, the impact of COVID 19 on the market and its traders, and supporting social needs of traders, including childcare resources etc. An important early decision was to avoid excessive synchronous online teaching. Instead we provided daily ‘outlines’ of tasks, resources and expectations for that day. These included a mix of live lectures and discussion sessions, prerecorded lectures, live online breakout groups, pre-recorded student presentations, Youtube videos, podcasts, and short articles. We have shared some links here to give you a sense of this material.