Evaluating remote access to fieldwork with interactive fieldcasts for distance learning students

Robson, Julie; Cooke, Julia; Wheeler, Philip; Maseyk, Kadmiel and Collins, Trevor (2017). Evaluating remote access to fieldwork with interactive fieldcasts for distance learning students. In: The 6th eSTEeM Annual Conference, 25-26 Apr 2017, The Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes.


Fieldwork is a fundamental part of the curriculum in undergraduate Earth, Ecology and Environmental Sciences, but not all students are able to participate in authentic field exercises. Distance learning students are more likely to find fieldwork problematic for a variety of reasons including their location (e.g. rural, overseas, or in inaccessible environments), the field trip location (e.g. often a considerable distance away), or because of a disability or caring responsibilities. Within second-level Environmental Science modules (i.e. S206 and SXF206) we have sought to make authentic fieldwork accessible to these students, by designing and running an interactive live field trip. Using the OU’s ‘Stadium Live’ platform, we produced three evening broadcasts over a one week period at the Open University last May examining the ecology of a nearby species rich meadow. The participating students used interactive widgets presented alongside the video to make observations, generate hypotheses and design their own field investigation, which was carried out by the scientists ‘on the ground’ and analysed live. Each of the three fieldcasts related to a specific aspect of field work: 1) observations and hypothesis development; 2) sampling strategy and data collection; 3) data analysis and interpretation. The process was iterative between the online students and onsite lecturers: for example information was provided to the students such as general observations of the site, which enabled the students to develop a hypothesis to investigate. This interaction operated during the fieldcasts, and continued in the forums after and between the livecast events. The trial use of ‘fieldcasting’ showed how mobile communication and video technologies can be used to increase access to fieldwork for all students and particularly those who might otherwise be excluded from field trips. The current phase of the project is to survey Environmental Science students this year, in order to evaluate the extent to which the fieldcasts help students achieve the desired learning outcomes, and to compare their fieldcast experience with that of attending a comparable face-to-face field trip led by an OU tutor. This presentation will introduce the challenges of supporting practical fieldwork within distance education and the use made of the fieldcast approach; it will also explain the design and methodology for this year’s evaluation project, and how this approach compares to other forms of fieldwork education used within distance learning to address accessibility requirements. Delegates attending this presentation will gain an understanding of fieldwork pedagogy, an awareness of how technology is being used to enhance fieldwork learning within distance education, and an insight into the practicalities of evaluating comparative forms of learning.

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