Distance learning in the field for universities

How do you proceed with field trips and excursions when teaching is limited by COVID-19? With the app Peek you send your university students outside in their own area: distance learning in the field.

During the Design in Land and Water Management course at Wageningen University and Research, a group of students normally go on a two-week excursion to Limburg. But – of course – that was cancelled due to the coronavirus.  Lecturer Teun Vogel: ‘In that course, students studied a case, which was usually in Limburg. As an alternative, we asked them to study a case in their own area.’ And that was where Peek came in again.

Students create their own field trip

‘We thought: what if we got students to plan their own field trips about their case studies?’ WUR set up a way for distance learning in the field for universities. No sooner said than done; students were given the login details for the app, and a couple of assignments. ‘Each field trip had to include a vlog or a podcast, for example,’ says Vogel. ‘Normally speaking, teachers plan field trips and think through what the best way to explain things is. By doing that work themselves, students do more interpreting of data, and they learn how to communicate clearly about their research.’

Student Carlo van Oijen (19) planned a field trip in the Bergen op Zoom area, where his parents live. ‘We were divided into small groups. My group looked at the impact of water engineering works on agriculture and on nature areas. I did research on the Philips dam, in which fresh water and salt water are separated. My field trip goes through agricultural areas that are affected by that dam, and nature areas that used to be unique for their brackish environment, but where the water is gradually becoming less salty. The disappearance of salt water can have a big impact on the plant diversity there.’

Freedom of using an app

Van Oijen thought it was a pity that such courses had to go online. ‘During that field trip in Limburg you really form a bond with your fellow students. On the other hand, this alternative gave us all the freedom to ask ourselves “What do I want to study, what interests me?” Normally you visit farmers who get regular visits from people on field trips. Now I just looked up stakeholders myself: farmers, a nature conservation organization, etcetera, and integrated that into my field trip.’

Field trip in your own area

Camu Prins (19) planned a field trip in De Schammer nature reserve, which lies between the towns of Amersfoort, Leusden and Hoevelaken. ‘About 10 years ago, that was farmland; now it’s a nature reserve and a place where water can be stored. When planning a field trip you ponder questions like: “What have I researched? What do I want to say? And where’s the best place to do that?” Because it was close to home, my parents could do the field trip too. If we’d gone to Limburg, that wouldn’t have been possible.’

Marnix Van den Maegdenbergh (19) planned a field trip by bike in the Wageningse Bovenpolder. ‘I researched how flooding and high water in the Rhine is regulated by all the stakeholders: the municipality, the nature management organization Staatsbosbeheer, and the water board. Who is responsible? What kinds of measures for managing high water in the river are visible in the landscape?’

Van den Maegdenbergh had just moved into student accommodation when the coronavirus pandemic broke out. ‘I live near the water meadows. That was a good opportunity to get to know the area better. At first you read the landscape very critically – what am I seeing now, actually? And then you take an extra step: what do I want to tell people about, and where can they see it reflected in the landscape? Planning a field trip yourself is a very nice addition to the course.’

Distance learning in the field for universities

Do you want to start distance learning in the field for universities with Peek? We are happy to get in touch!

This is an adaptation of an article that previously appeared in Resource Magazine.