Wednesday, 23 May 2012

iPads in New York: Trip Report

Nine students from the University of Chester used iPads during their recent fieldtrip to New York. The trip focused on social exclusion and urban regeneration in NYC and students were encouraged to use the iPads however they saw fit. Trials of Twitter and Fotobabble were encouraged and used to a good level of success.


The students found the technology really enhanced their experience during the trip. Early issues of lack of 3G access were overcome due to the sheer number of wi-fi hotspots available in NYC (namely Starbucks!).

Twitter was especially popular with the students who used it as a reflective tool and to post photos. The staff members on the trip found this particularly useful as they could also share their experiences through the hashtag #gdschester and see how students were enjoying and reflecting on their experiences over the course of the fieldwork.

"Top of empire state. Cracking views. iPads working well even at this height in the dark!" (@gdschester3)

"Ellis island more positive atmosphere than expected. More hope than disapointment " (@gdschester2)

Livescribe pens were also used and were popular with the students : "Livescribe pens more than useful" (@gdschester2)


The educational values of the iPad were so apparent that two of the staff members accompanying the students also purchased iPads plus a number of students were considering purchasing an iPad in the coming months.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Fieldwork and technology x2

May is a busy month for the Enhancing Fieldwork Learning project! We have two fieldtrips taking place this month, first one is to the Big Apple......New York City! Our Human Geographers here at the University of Chester will be investigating social exclusion, migration and urban regeneration. 

The students are taking iPads and Livescribe pens with them to interview people, make observations and interact with one another. 

We will be trialling Twitter, Fotobabble and iTalk with the student groups.  


Next on the agenda is the Physical Geography trip to Almeria in South-East Spain. 

Students will be making use of netbooks to enter their data whilst out in the field and also will have access to aerial photographs on the netbooks whilst out in the field. 


We are looking forward to talking to the students when they return to gathering their perspectives on using technology on the fieldtrips. 

Monday, 30 April 2012

Augmented Reality – Bringing Ecosystem Services to life!

Today we present the first in a series of guest blog posts, the first of which comes from Sarah Taigel at the University of East Anglia. 

Traditionally rural landscapes have been managed primarily for agriculture and forestry. However the landscape provides a wealth of other natural benefits (ecosystem services) to human kind, some obvious such as food and fresh water, and some so subtle they do not feature in the public consciousness (National Ecosystem Assessment, 2011). The National Ecosystem Assessment has highlighted growing individual consumerism as one source of pressure on ecosystem services; there is a need to communicate to people the link between personal behaviour and pressures on the ecosystem services in the landscape.

Figure 1. VesAR screenshots
I created an augmented reality applet called VesAR (Visualising ecosystem services using Augmented Reality) (see Figure 1 above) which can be downloaded onto mobile smartphones. The secure applet runs within LayAR which can be downloaded from iTunes or Android marketplace. VesAR uses the smartphones camera, GPS, compass, accelerometer and needs an internet connection (see Figure 2). GPS determines the exact location of the device (within a few meters) and the compass and accelerometer determine the field of view. The person using the device sees the world via the camera image which is displayed on the screen, this is overlaid, or augmented, with additional information (POIs – Points of Interest) in the form of text and images via mobile internet to both locate and describe the ecosystem service. In the summer of 2012 two smartphones and a Galaxy tablet will be used to trial the applet on guided tours of the Gaywood catchment in Norfolk. The survey results will hopefully tell me the degree with which people engage with and understand ecosystem services and how the use of technology can assist in the communication of scientific information.

Figure 2. VesAR architecture
VesAR development has been relatively straightforward after trials of the applet were moved to a nearby floodplain reducing interference from buildings. Installing GPS Test meant that the accuracy of the GPS fix could be verified before initialising the VesAR applet. Continued issues include the GPS draining battery, exacerbated by the screen running at full brightness for outdoor use; alternative charging sources are being tested for use in the field. The Environmental Sciences department at the UEA has been supportive and interested in the use of this technology within my research project; particular interest has been shown in using the BGS iGeology application on fieldwork courses. The hardware will be used on fieldwork and in the curriculum to introduce students to the power of location based information and the ease with which information can be communicated between devices and the lab or desk. 

Sarah Taigel is an ESRC funded PhD researcher at the University of East Anglia, her PhD topic is “visioning catchment futures” and focuses on communicating ecosystem services currently obtained from the catchment landscape. Sarah also uses scenario modelling to explore how the provision of ecosystem services may change in the future.  The views expressed in this blog piece are the authors and not those of the University.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Weather-proof iPad cases

This iPad case made by Griffin costs in the region of £25-£40 depending on Amazon price variation. We wanted an iPad case that could withstand the British weather and could survive being dropped onto a hard surface without having sensitivity of the screen compromised.

After extensive field testing last week in wet (and at times sunny) Devon, UK, we can feel confident that these cases stand up to the wettest conditions.  One student commented that "cameras and phones came back broken, the only thing left standing were the iPads".  The cases also calmed a lot of anxieties that the students had as they felt the iPads were more robust in their cases.

Negative points: the stand is a bit flimsy, but we barely used it on the trip. The weight of the iPad doubles when the case is on, again, it only weighs the same as a large notepad but if you are on an expedition and trying to travel light, this may be an issue. Overall, the benefits and durability far outweight

Monday, 27 February 2012

Slapton 2012 - iPad apps in the field.

Two of the project team spent a week at FSC Slapton Ley testing out various iPad apps with 67 level four students.  3G connection in the area was relatively poor which limited the extent to which we could test some of the apps which rely on location services such as Flickr, Panoramio and Twitter, but we made use of some offline apps such as GeoMeasure and Numbers, both of which were popular with the students.

 The students suggested that the apps were really easy to use with little assistance required. The only app they felt they needed more assistance with was Numbers as it worked differently to Excel and required more time for the students to graph data.

Each member of the first group were asked to describe using Twitter on the iPads in 3 words. "Fun, useful, paperless, convenient and easy" stand out as the positive feedback about the iPads. "3G, Wet and Risky" stand out as the less positive feedback about the iPads (though we suspect "WET" was in reference to the British weather in February rather than the iPads - incidentally the iPad cases we used were excellent in the rain, we will follow up on this with a blog post in the next few weeks).  "3G" was in reference to the lack of 3G coverage in the area which meant that the Tweets saved as drafts before being uploaded minus location data back at the Field Centre.

On the whole, the feedback was extremeley postive towards the iPads and the apps we chose to trial. An annotated Pin board has been put together describing different apps and how useful they are for fieldwork.  You can view that on Pinterest here:


Next fieldtrip location is New York City where our field tester (Derek) has already confirmed 3G is not a problem!

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Technology Enhanced Fieldwork - Superlinks #1

Back to the occasional series of the mid-week link up with interesting blog posts and Twitter updates found on the internet in the last 7 days.

* Thanks to Chris Thomson from Netskills for linking to this blog post by the Guardian about shooting and editing videos on smartphones. Click HERE.

*Thanks (again!) to Chris Thomson from Netskills for linking to this update from Flickr about Geofences, very useful for anyone using location data on iPads and Smartphones. 

* Mashable's take on why iPads won't revolutionise education...yet. Do you agree with this?

* Aurasma - Could this be the future of QR codes? We'll be trying this app out in the next fortnight and blogging our findings.

* Save our fieldwork petition from the Field Studies Council - if you value outdoor education centres, please consider signing this petition .

We'd love to hear any comments you have on these technologies, especially if you have used any of them. 

Monday, 13 February 2012

Re-launch of our project website

If you are a regular visitor to the Enhancing Fieldwork Learning website, you might have noticed some changes taking place. Our new web developer Ben has been putting together an improved version of our website. The most significant change is the problems/resources section which we intend to update regularly as new resources are created.
We hope to bring you regular updates and resources via the blog and the website. Interested in technology? Don't forget our showcase event, see more information HERE.