Fieldwork has always been a key component of subjects such as geology, geography and environmental sciences, and digital support for field trips is not new. In recent years however, there have been dramatic improvements in technology.
Some of the barriers identified by Cliffe (2017) in his review of virtual field trips include difficulty in creating the virtual field trips, and a lack of a true sense of immersion. Modern editing tools are very easy to use, whilst Google cardboard and others have lowered the barrier for creating 360 degree resources.
360 degree images, enhanced with video and still imagery, are especially useful for creating immersive experiences based on real life locations. HEFi can facilitate creation of these resources using our in-house equipment.
In this example, we allow students to explore a field station in Norway. Many students are nervous about visiting these kinds of locations, and sometimes turn up ill-prepared. Seeing fellow students talking about the trip, in the actual location, helps them prepare emotionally and practically and hopefully get more from the trip.
Virtual field trips also allow students to access sites that are off limits. The Birmingham Institute for Forest Research have a high profile research programme looking at the impact of increased CO2 on temperate forests. The physical site is restricted access, but the virtual tour allows an unlimited number of people to explore this complex scientific site.
To incorporate active learning it is possible to embed activities, such as this virtual survey. Here students count the plant species in a series of virtual quadrats to learn about succession in a glacial environment.
These technologies cannot replace real field work, but they do allow access to locations that many students might otherwise never be able to visit.