Tim Linsey and Richard Hall presented at the CETIS Mobile Tech meeting this week on ‘Mobilising Remote Student Engagement: Lessons from the Field’
Archive for June, 2010
Today saw the students spending another day in Mellieha correcting the epistemological and ontological issues of their data collection from the previous day. With a better understanding of landuse types, their equipment’s limitations and a common conceptual framework for conducting their mapping they produced a much better product.
The staff rewarded the students by saving them a significant amount of time at the end of the day aggregating their data – here’s a brief explanation.
Typically at the end of a day of mobile mapping using PDAs the students need to get together in their groups, download their data to a laptop and then spend a significant amount of time (in the past between 3-6 hours) collating and editing their data.
To change the focus of the task from data manipulation to examining the data collected KU GIS lecturers Dr Field & Dr O’Brien decided to implement some of the ESRI technology at our disposal while demonstrating to the students the changing trend from desktop to server in the GIS industry.
By implementing an ArcGIS Server on a Panasonic Toughbook laptop we could bring the server into the field with us and using a mobile wireless router students could connect to it anyway (providing they were in range of the WIFI). As a side note we could have done this using a 3G data connection but roaming costs in Malta are astronomical.
What’s the advantage of this? Well the Server is running a spatial database that supports versioning of data. That means that when uploads of the same data take place they are tagged with a username, date and time so that “good” data from one student group can supercede “bad” data from another group. This database also provides a place for all of the data to be uploaded.
By making this server mobile and accessible via WIFI students don’t need to cluster around laptops. Instead (as we did tonight) they can sit on the roof of the hotel within range of the WIFI network and simultaneously upload their data to the server which will collate it and if necessary stream it back to the students so they can all have an up-to-date copy on their PDAs. This evening it took longer to explain the process to the students than it did to synchronise the PDAs and collect the data on the server. Within 5 minutes of the process starting the students were able to view the data within ArcCatalog on the screen.
The students could then have started their laptops, connected to ArcGIS Server using the desktop ArcGIS client and downloaded the data for further analysis.
Future developments of this (3G roaming charges permitting) would have the students regularly uploading data to the server during the day and sharing it with staff and other groups. This enables students to see each other’s progress, for staff to keep an eye on areas of interest that are being missed, student groups locations to be monitored and data quality to be checked (e.g. if staff know the landcover of a particular area and it’s incorrectly tagged this can be corrected while the group is still in the field).
This development is novel as servers are traditionally located in secure, temperature controlled environments – not the rooftops of Mediterranean hotels (or anywhere else the staff need to set it up). Students have traditionally spent a significant amount of time engaging in menial data aggregation tasks to the detriment of the more important data analysis tasks (a problem that no longer exists). Instead the students can focus on analysing the level of agricultural change which is the focus of this exercise.
The GIS students returned to Mellieha to restart (reboot?) their mapping of Mellieha today armed with more experience of their mobile devices, a desire to map more consistently than the day before, an agreed schema, instructions to make even greater use of Twitter to interact with their lecturers and a novel data aggregation approach at the end of the day.
The students made an excellent start getting into the field and mapping early on, twittered and received support back from staff about technical issues and demonstrated excellent initiative making use of multiple GPS devices to capture different types of data (e.g. Trimble Junos for landcover/landuse, Garmin eTrex for point data and Magellan Triton 400s for road network – all in the same group).
The students productive data gathering saw them rewarded at the end of the day with the implementation of a novel technical solution from the academic staff (see the next blog post for details about that).
The students reflected on the repeated exercise at the end of the day and noted that consistency of data acquisition was the key and while they might have collected more data yesterday today’s was definitely of higher quality and across a wider area. This was largely due to the staff assigning the students to specific “service areas” built using ArcGIS Network Analyst which ensured each group had an equal distance to walk (even if the amount of elevation change in their service area wasn’t uniform). The students again commented on the utility of Twitter as a support mechanism (both in tweets – seen at www.personal.psu.edu/~jao160/bin-release/malta10wc.html and also verbally during the debrief).
The GIS students on Malta have conducted their first day of land use surveying using mobile GIS tools. The structure of the exercise was loosely structured and the parameters defined by the students. As expected the data was of relatively poor quality and the area covered was insufficient.
During the debrief students discussed their exercise and what they could have done differently. Staff then led a discussion assisting the students with devising sampling strategies.
Tomorrow the students will be making use of service areas created by the staff using ARCGIS Network Analyst. They’ll be discussing concepts using Twitter and txttools and will be synchronising their data using ESRI’s ARCGIS Server.
The students are about to embark on a GPS vs. paper navigation exercise that will see them not only learning to use the technology but also “racing” across Sliema and another city (obscured in case they’re reading).
The “race” will be conducted using Twitter as a form of timing mechanism. At a series of waypoints provided to the students they will need to tweet using the #malta10 hashtag along with the ID of the waypoint (e.g WP1). These tweets will be recorded to determine who reaches each waypoint first. The tweets will also be plotted on a map and a timeline will demonstrate students moving up through the pack during the afternoon. The URL for the map will be published later so that students cannot cheat by going straight to the final waypoint.
Start line tweets (it’s a staggered start) will ensure that a fair start time handicap system is in place.
In March and April a group of 3rd year undergraduates studying Environmental Hazards and Disaster Management travelled to Australia. These students performing mobile mapping tasks similar to Malta supported by staff with mobile phones.
The students made use of Arcpad on GPS enabled PDAs to perform a building damage assessment for beachfront properties north of Cairns in Australia. Using base imagery provided by the staff team the students used the PDAs as a supplement to their field notebooks.
The students who have all taken a module in GIS but not mobile data collection were given basic instructions and told to call or sms staff if they had queries.
Most groups had minor difficulties relating to the genetic use of the devices e.g changing the screen brightness which were easily resolved by phone. One group had major difficulties getting the PDA to collect data which was not solvable by phone & this group resorted to paper record keeping.
The groups that were successful in digital data collection noted at the end of the exercise how easily they could begin analysing their data. The paper based group spent significant time transcribing their data to enable comparison and analysis.
In future years additional training will be undertaken with the students prior to the exercise. Training was planned this year but was cancelled due to inclement weather.
The students generally appreciated the use of the technology despite minor difficulties and the group which could not use the PDA expressed disappointment that they couldn’t.