I joined the second day of the weekend field trip which focussed on The Duver near St Helens on the Isle of Wight. My role was as an observer in terms of student uses of personal technologies on the trip , especially in terms of an activity being run by Dr Stuart Downward using SMS messaging, but also to run some further trials. Of particular interest were technologies that could enhance collaboration amongst students across the field site and between students in the field and those back at the institution. Of particular inspiration is the work of the Inner Space Center where they use telepresense to enable real-time collaboration between staff on undersea oceanographic missions and those back in the Center. Dr Robert Ballard founder of the Center stated in reference to a deep sea mission that “With teams ashore at the University of Rhode Island and University of Washington, more intellectual capital was conveniently accessible to the mission”.
The following technologies were trialled:
Live Video feeds using a 3G enabled mobile phone. Qik was used allowing a live video stream to be fed to a website with the additional capability for text based interaction. Some success was achieved but with a significant lag in the video appearing on the website. This was probably due to the very variable signal strength / 3G signal in the field area. In one experiment a live video stream was taken of a particular section of the beach while the student group asked questions and made observations about coastal erosion. Due to the lag live interaction was not feasible on-site but it did provide a method for publishing video in near real-time.
Live Tracking using a mobile phone with integrated GPS. The Instamapper mobile phone application was used which broadcasts a geographical reference (in addition to altitude, speed and bearing) at a given time interval which can be fed to a public website. The track is also recorded and can be exported and displayed via Google maps. This facility could be used to:
- enable students back at the institution to access relevant resources / real-time databases / perform analyses relevant to the location and feedback to the field group
- confirm sampling strategies / geographical gaps in data collection
The following link shows one of the tracks recorded on The Duver using a mobile phone with integrated GPS. The geographical reference and other data can be accessed by clicking on individual data points.
Voice communication. This of course is the most basic function of a mobile phone. However Mobile Skype was used to communicate with a member of staff centrally placed in the field trip hotel who was networked using locally provided WiFi. This worked effectively especially in combination with other tools such as mobile tracking. This also provided a further option for setting up conference calls between field groups.
Microblogging. Dr Ken Field and Dr James O’Brien demonstrated uses of geocoded Twitter postings on the previous Malta fieldtrip (#Malta09) and they are continuing to develop these applications. During the Isle of Wight fieldtrip I used the mobile Twitter application Ubertwitter which allows geocoding as well as the ability to identify twitter postings by location. Of particular interest was the potential use of this application for students to post and share in real time geocoded field observations. See Twitter posts with the hashtags #morse and #iow.
Photographs. Dedicated cameras / mobile integrated cameras are an extremely useful tool on fieldtrips for recording features and environments. These photographs can be saved and downloaded at a later date for analysis. However it is a straightforward task to publish these in near real-time using for example a Twitter linked photo application (e.g. Twitpic, Tweetphoto) or via a dedicated photograph sharing site. This can be done with or without a dedicated application, though a dedicated application will tend to provide more options. In this case the Flickr mobile application was used providing the ability to upload photographs along with a geographical reference, description and keywords. This provides a powerful mechanism for sharing images in near real-time along with attached field notes. These notes can be further updated at a later time and can be commented on by others. Photographs tagged with Morse and IoW taken on the trip. The 2 megapixel images took approximately up to 2-3 minutes to upload.
Audio recording. Many mobile phones have the ability to record audio which can be useful for recording audio field notes that can be downloaded and shared at a later date. There are also tools such as Gabcast that allow audio files to be recorded and published directly from a mobile.
The above information channels were published via single web page allowing potential participants to view the information from one location and additionally published within a VLE using RSS feeds and included scripts. Students would also have the option to integrate the various streams within their personal learning environment as they saw appropriate.
There is a balance to be achieved between dedicated personal technologies, specialist field devices and integrated mobile phones with battery life being a major factor. In carrying out the above trials a fully charged mobile battery did not last the day.
- Tim Linsey