label on pile of rubble and rocks
Education Enhancement Funds

Testing the use of digital technologies for field-based education to enhance graduate confidence and preparedness

Jenny Riker was awarded an Teaching Innovation Grant in 2017/18. You can find a summary of her project, and the project conclusions below. If you’d like to access a full copy of the report, please contact the BILT Team. 

Project summary
Geological mapping is an integral element of undergraduate degree programmes in the earth sciences. It is an immersive, active learning experience linked to the affective domain and deep learning (Boyle et al. 2007). Learning to map indoctrinates students into the community of earth science practice and enhances their ability to master high order skills, such as disembedding information from noise and developing 3D and 4D constructs of the earth (Reynolds 2012). For these reasons, mapping remains a cornerstone of undergraduate training, where it is conventionally taught using pen-and-paper techniques. However, recent advances in the capabilities of Global Positioning System (GPS) enabled tablets mean that most field data can now be collected and analysed digitally. The needs of the geoscience workforce and employer expectations of our graduates are changing as a result. An approach that relies solely on traditional techniques is increasingly at odds with professional practice and student expectations.

This project set out to introduce digital tablets for field-based data collection and mapping into our 3rd year fieldwork unit and evaluate their effectiveness in developing students’ sense of self-efficacy with regard to key fieldwork skills. It aimed to better equip our undergraduates with skills and affectations that will serve them best in life after graduation. Self-efficacy and attitudes towards fieldwork were evaluated using paired questionnaires distributed before and after the field trip. Survey responses indicate a broadly increased sense of self-efficacy after undertaking the new mapping approach. Students and staff were also highly enthusiastic about digital mapping, which was overwhelmingly positively received and offered many benefits–some anticipated, others unexpected.

Conclusions
This project enabled the introduction of digital geological mapping techniques into our 3rd year field course for Geology undergraduates, with remarkably positive results. Student survey responses indicate a broadly increased sense of self-efficacy in relation to key field work tasks after undertaking the new mapping approach, which may help to instil confidence needed for life after graduation. Digital mapping generated positive  effective responses from both students and staff and helped to streamline the process of fieldwork and its assessment. In view of these outcomes, we recommend its continuation
and possible expansion within our curriculum. Future efforts will focus on securing the funding needed to maintain a cache of tablets, streamlining the process of managing the technology, and integrating the new technology with other aspects of our field programme and beyond.

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