What would fieldwork be like if you had one of THESE?

I wondered how people taking students out on fieldwork might make use of something like the AR Drone

For doing remote HD filming/imaging of locations…

…and flips! (rad!)

It’s not cheap, mind. And the range and battery life are limited (although it’s tricky to find out exact numbers from the product’s homepage).

Plus, we should probably have a think about the safety and privacy issues of drones in private hands with cameras in built-up areas!

But if you used it as an additional tool for surveying a location from elevated angles there could be all sorts of useful applications. In a limited sense it could be used to improve accessibility to some difficult-to-reach landscape features.

Definitely need to get one to test in the office! 😉

Magic Mountains – using PeakFinder to name the mountains round you

Hat tip to Google Maps Mania for posting about this.

In my later years I hope to be able to walk around any part of Scotland, point to the horizon and exclaim without hesitation things like, “ah yes, Buachaille Etive Mor. A challenging climb but well worth the effort, my lad.” Or something similar.

Trouble is, at the moment I have very little idea what I’m looking at. Even looking at an OS map and working out what peaks are going to be visible in 3D space is a headache.

Take this pic for example, taken near Crainlarich:

Ben More by moonlight

This was the (moonlit) view from a campsite I was at with the family recently. I knew Ben More was out of shot to the left but the other peaks I had only a vague idea.

So this clever website is a real bonus. It’s caled Peakfinder.

You enter in a location using Google Maps or coordinates then it spits out a simple line-drawn panorama showing the names of the visible peaks around you.

Here’s the same horizon as the pic above:

Which is kind of neat.

You can share the exact view you’ve found via Facebook or a URL or download the entire panorama as a PDF.

They do have a mobile app available but only for certain locations (Alps, and parts of USA and Canada).

You could bodge something together using Layar if you wanted an AR version but that has a number of problems like poor coverage in mountainous areas and being able to see markers for peaks that aren’t even visible from your viewpoint. It takes quite some GIS jiggery-pokery to achieve that.

Is it useful?

Certainly from the point of view of helping establish a sense of place and orientation if you’re out in the field, or combining it with a traditional map reading exercise (compare the horizon view with what’s represented on an OS map? Sketch a peak’s prfile from the contours on the map then compare with PeakFinder?).

Perhaps students could try reverse engineering something like it using GIS tools for something a bit more challenging.

Event report: Enhancing Fieldwork Learning Showcase 2012

Digested Read

A welcome return for an event that really should be a regular feature of the calendar. The technology has moved on in the last year and there seems to be more confidence and a sort of academic mischief-making in the air!

The full story… 

I think my favourite event from 2011 was the Enhancing Fieldwork Learning Showcase in Margam, South Wales where I did a brief session on QR codes and fieldwork. More importantly, it was an event that introduced me to a whole new community of people, new ways of working and reconnected me with original discipline of geography.

This year I was invited back to talk about digital storytelling which I summed up here.

Here are some of my highlights and personal reflections from this year.

What was the same as last year? Same broad range of attendees from different disciplines and perspectives. Loads of varied presentations including giving a schools’ viewpoint on geography and fieldwork. There was the same levels of enthusiasm and fun from attendees and the organising group. The feeling of fieldwork being an intergral part of not only people’s subject areas but of their personal identities. Good food.

What was different? A greater sense of adventure, confidence and risk-taking all round. The profile of the types of technology.

Technology? Last year, one or two people had talked about using iPads but most mobile devices had been phones. This year it felt more like iPads were becoming an increasingly essential bit of fieldwork equipment (but not a panacea!).

Thats good, right? Yes. Well, sort of. There was no doubt that there’s a fantastic range of possibilities that the iPad brings from the functional to the creative and I certainly wouldn’t have been able to do my session without it. But there’s a distinct lack of alternatives out there. This left a lot of questions buzzing in my head about increasing consolidation of one ecosystem (even if it’s a good one) and the reliance on computing as consumption. All being well, in the next 5 years students arriving at universities and colleges will have benefitted from a ICT curriculum which builds skills in coding and computing as construction and creation. How can fieldwork incorporate this? Is there a place in fieldwork for Arduino or Raspberry Pi?

Who was participating? A powerful aspect of the showcase was it’s multi-discipline audience. We had Alan Parkinson from Mission:Explore encouraging us to look at fieldwork in a new and irreverent way. David Rogers of the Priory School in Portsmouth showed how a school with very limited access to outdoor space can make the most of its environment and why being a “troublemaker” can be a lot of fun AND have a measurable impact on results. Sarah Taylor from Keele University showed off the use of the Vertex IV in her research and teaching. Rick Stafford from Bedfordhsire Uni talked about using mobile devices in a citizen science project to collect biodiversity data. Judith Lock talked about the ecology work she had done based on what she had learned at last year’s event which gave a nice feeling of continuity. And Brian Whalley showed off the potential of iPads as field notebooks (with honourable mentions going to Skitch and Notability). That’s not the half of it but no doubt there will be more information on the project site shortly.

Any other ideas rattling around your head? We did a bit of horizon scanning and thought about these…

  • Fieldwork as hacking. Lots of talk about the recent FSC hack day. Maybe field trips could be something similar. Identify a question or problem at a location, then have students working on how they would answer or solve the question and deciding on or designing the tools to do it.
  • Multi-discipline multi-age fieldwork. Field activities tend to happen in subject areas. I remember from my time at Uni that the geographers went to Turkey and the geologists went to Norway. Why not mix it up? What happens when a geopgrapher, a geologist, a computer scientist and an artist do fieldwork together?

Sounds like the start of a really bad joke. Fair enough. But also, David’s presentation on Priory made me think that his students are geographers too, all part of the same apprenticeship continuum. Why can’t fieldwork involve a range of ages and backgrounds? Students working with professors working with local communities etc etc.

  • 3D Printing. One of the FSC guys talked about the possibility of using Rep-Rap with survey data to create 3D models of landscapes, transects and the like. Imagine modelling the flow of water over a hillside you just surveyed that day and printed out.
  • Technology and fieldcraft
  • What will we be talking a out next year? There wasn’t much discussion of augmented reality which was interesting. Maybe that’s to do with connectivity in the field, that its readability is less than perfect or that creating AR materials can be so darn complicated. With Google Glasses and other HUD devices on the horizon what might fieldwork look like in a efw years’ time.
  • Access to open data stream could be a powerful addition to fieldwork. We had a demonstration of how this might work with live river discharge data from a gauging station being displayed on an iPad as we stood on the bank of the Severn.
  • Wouldn’t it be great if there was a tablet dock for hooking up environmental sensors. Something like the Alesis I/O dock but for these bad boys instead of audio.

Anything else? There was loads of stuff going on but I’d suggest following Enhancing Fieldwork Learning on Twitter and Pinterest to keep up with further reports from the event and future development.

In the meantime, as well as some of the activity from the event I took a couple of pics of the rather lovely surroundings. I’m off for a cup of tea.

Footloose Digital Storytelling at the EFL Showcase 2012 (#efl2012)

Enhancing Fieldwork Learning 2012 Showcase

I had obviously behaved well enough at last year’s showcase in Wales to be invited back for another event from the HEA funded Enhancing Fieldwork Learning Team. This year was at the rather lovely Preston Montford FSC just outside Shrewsbury.

I had mixed feelings about going. Last year’s event had been brilliant but last time I was in Shrewsbury there was an earthquake. Thankfully, this year was fascinating educationally and boring seismically.

The event brings together geographers, geologists, biologists, environmental scientists and the like to share their experiences of enhacing fieldwork through the use of technology.

Now, I don’t do fieldwork (although I do like to get out and about) so my session was mostly about seeding ideas and experimenting. 

This year I chose to focus on “Footloose Digital Storytelling”. I had a morning session to talk about what digital storytelling was and then embarked on a rash plan to get the entire group to film, edit and publish their own digital story using iPads and iPhones (one person used an iPod Touch).

We used the free version of Splice which, although doesn’t have the most features of mobile editing apps, is one of the simplest and suited our purposes really well.

It’s not without its bugs and quirks but in the end the group had created 16 movies and given that they’d only really had an hour to make it I was pretty bowled over.

For the record, I’d never suggest squeezing an actual storytelling session into on hour. It needs time to do it right. This was a bit hit and run and the attendees did really well to cope. One said it had simultaneously been a good experience and hell on earth, which sounds about right.

Originally I’d thought of setting them the task of creating a movie with a specified title but in the end I thought I’d surrender that side of things to them and just asked them to tell their own story of the event. Let many flowers bloom. You can see most of them here but here’s a couple showing the varied approaches.


Mobile devices are not ideal as tools for this sort of thing but it’s still pretty amazing what that you can shoot, edit and share a movie using your phone or tablet. YOUR PHONE!


Pip Hardy likened this to criticising a talking dog. Do you quibble over its accent and vocabulary?

As part of the experiment we discovered that Splice works quite happily without any wifi or 3G connectivity. A couple of the attendees are now considering getting their students to do digital storytelling whilst on field work abroad – I’m eagerly awaiting the results of those.

Coming shortly – my reflections on the rest of the event…