Bringing the rocks into your house, virtual fieldtrips (VFT)

With Dr Cees van der Land, Dr Sanem Acikalin & Dr Mark Ireland

Newcastle University School of Natural and Earth Sciences

Faculty of Science, Agriculture and Engineering

What did you do?

For our Earth Science students we developed a range of VFTs during which they learn to analyse and map the rock strata. We used 3D rock exposure models, sedimentological data, geospatial data and provided guidance for the students to achieve the learning outcomes.

Who is involved?

Dr Cees van der Land, Dr Sanem Acikalin & Dr Mark Ireland with external support by Richard Jones from Geospatial Research

Photos of the members involved

How and why did you do it?

The following video was taken from our Art of the Possible week in July 2021. Cees took the group through her work in detail, explained how she did it and the reasons why.

This is an example of a virtual outcrop environment designed by Geospatial Research team, this exposure is along the Northumberland coast near Howick. Stage 1 students visit this exposure in person.

Does it work and student voice

We used both a linear and block teaching approach to deliver VFTs. For a Stage 3 module we did weekly VFT assignments throughout semester 1, followed by an in-person fieldtrip in semester 2. For a Stage 2 module we simulated the reality of an intense field teaching week by delivering it in one week (block). VFTs require a significant amount of additional preparation time compared to in-person fieldtrips. It takes time to get familiar with the online platform and ensure the data is presented in a way that will enhance learning.

Students undertook a reflective exercise at the end of the Stage 3 module, focussed on comparing it with in-person fieldtrips. They noted that it enabled them to go at their own pace, the independence of (complicate) logistics to get there and the weather, the opportunity to view exposures at angles not possible in-person and the ability to be able to conduct background reading while at and exposure. They enjoyed the more interactive elements, e.g. clicking on a rock to get a microscope image of it.

They faced some technical challenges as they needed to understand some software packages ahead of the VFTs. Data collection is limited, can’t always make observations across a range of scales. The interaction with lecturers is indirect, often via email, instead of a short chat at the actual rock exposure. They did not see it as a direct substitute for real life as the sheer scale of some field trips (they have been on) can “inspire awe”.

For the Stage 3 students, the VFTs were followed by an in-person fieldtrip to Northumberland. They remarked that the VFTs did prepare them better for the fieldtrip. We hope to get a similar experience from the Stage 2 students who did the VFT as they will attend an in-person fieldtrip at the start of their Stage 3.

Student Sketch from the exposure in the Sorbas Basin, South East Spain

Graduate Framework

    • Engaged
    • Resilient
    • Creative, innovative, and enterprising
    • Future focused
    • Confident

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