On the last KU GIS field course to Malta MoRSE team members Dr Ken Field and Dr James O’Brien decided that we’d link together remote student engagement with some real-time tracking and a little web cartography (or to use a term coined by Dr Field – cartoblography).
Building on the UK Snow map work by Ben Marsh (http://www.benmarsh.co.uk/snow/) we implemented the Twitter Search API and defined a Twitter hashtag – #Malta09 for the field course.
Students could then tweet using #Malta09 about their experiences in the field during the day together with a latitude and longitude (provided either by their mobile phone or GPS receivers the students were using to accomplish their fieldwork tasks) and these tweets would be swept up by a web map and displayed on the web.
This map was also available to students back in London and it was anticipated that students who had travelled to Malta previously (current 3rd years) and those that would travel the following year (current 1st years) would interact with those on the field course.
Staff also tweeted regularly throughout the day commenting on various aspects of the field course.
All of the elements of the experiment worked perfectly with one small exception. The Twitter searching functioned flawlessly at the time (but the search parameters have since been reduced to 7 days meaning the original data is no longer directly accessible), the web mapping and interaction with staff and students back in London also worked flawlessly.
Students in Malta however were reluctant to tweet which seems largely based on the high international roaming charges they were exposed to on their mobile phones. While the staff were able to offer inducements in the form of refunds of mobile phone usage and the students also had access to WIFI in the hotel in the evenings most were reluctant to tweet about their experiences and only a few students commented from the field on their final day.
We’ll be repeating the experiment this year and reinforcing the cost inducements and hopefully last summer’s free European roaming promotion from Vodafone UK will see other carriers making similar promotions this year which might lessen the financial impact.
There are also plans to trial the field course tweets with students in other UK and international locations throughout the coming academic year to examine if cost or other factors (such as wishing to keep social and learning spaces separate) are the driving reasons.
Other issues surrounding relying on “Cloud Computing” infrastructure for important data storage were highlighted when Twitter modified their search API without notification.