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Transforming Education

Using a student perspective to recreate the field trip experience online

One important element of students' studies that was not possible during the pandemic was field trips and the Project Enhance team put their minds to re-creating the experience, harnessing the student and graduate contributors' skills and insight to ensure it met student expectations.

Field trips are often a highlight of any student’s course, giving them a unique, practical opportunity to explore their subject first-hand.

With the COVID-19 pandemic leading to the temporary cancellation of almost all field trips, departments have adopted different approaches and technologies in their efforts to replicate the field trip experience online. In many cases, it has been recent and current students who have played a key role in re-imagining these trips for the online environment.

Charl Evans is a Digital Learning Developer (DLD) working predominantly in the Business School. One of her projects was to design an online fieldwork trip to The Eden Project in Cornwall, part of the Sustainable Tourism Management module run by Dr Joanne Connell, Senior Lecturer in Tourism Management.

“I can only imagine how devastating it must be for students who have applied for a course that involved fieldwork trips to have them cancelled due to Covid,” said Charl. “My challenge was to create a virtual fieldwork trip where students could feel like they were at the location but from the comfort of their own home in front of a laptop.

“It’s difficult as you can’t excite people’s senses when creating a digital trip where you have to click your way through the location as opposed to walking around, but I gave it my best shot.”

Charl made use of the Exeter Learning Environment (ELE) alongside ESRI, a separate platform that takes advantage of Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping technology.

“ESRI allows you to create a site about anything and everything you want,” she explained. “The page includes an introduction with titles and structure, a map showing a birds’ eye view, video introductions embedded from YouTube and other video platforms.

“It allows students to visit the destination virtually but still gather a feel for it with images, videos and maps. You can ensure students complete field work coursework by adding data to ESRI so they can collect on the site in creative and fun ways and continue with their learning without being restricted by not having access to the destination.

“Of course, while the creative genius of this amazing tool allows us to feel we are at the destination for ourselves, it is not the same as actually being present there. Let’s hope that ESRI can be used alongside real life fieldwork trips in the future as a form of blended learning.”

Other DLDs have explored different tools to help make the field trip experience come alive online for students. Ben Stainton works as a DLD with the College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences (CEMPS), and has used Google Earth resources to facilitate effective field observations, problem solving and collaboration. According to Ben, feedback from students has been encouraging.

“The resources on Google Earth have been incredibly well received by students,” he said. “Focus group feedback on virtual field work was very positive and the use of virtual environments was described as a godsend by a first year Geology undergraduate. Others said they would have been completely lost without it.”

One project Ben worked on is the River Project, which provides a student-led learning platform in which participants research and learn about new renewable energy sites and then educate members of the public. “The project gave a platform for students to make industry contacts and develop their confidence when communicating with professionals, on top of expanding their knowledge and supporting research,” Ben explained.

Our Digital Learning Developers have played a key role in making field trips come alive online for students, and this work will continue to enhance the field trip experience even when students are able to return to locations in person.

It also promotes greater inclusivity by allowing those unable to participate in physical field trips to still access valuable learning materials.