Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Tablets for Outdoor Labs and Fieldwork

Tablets and smartphones are great when we go outside - this may be most obvious in the natural sciences and regional planning, but includes 'field' experiences or citizen geography  in any discipline including, for example, civic engagement projects or study-abroad trips.

These 'smart gizmos' provide internet connectivity, GPS, digital camera, sound recording, accelerometers, external sensors, and data entry/storage capabilities and in the future may add some pre-processing for the collected data such as image and sound analysis. Further down the road we might be wearing Google Glass and Augmented Reality in our field work or outdoor labs! Here are several recent paper and case studies:
Book Alert! Tech-Enabled Field Studies by R.T. Palmer and T.R. Baker. Read a brief summary/review here.

But - are we using technology just for technology’s sake? In other words: are tablets really adding additional learning dimensions (apparently they do!) or are we following the Borg Complex? Or: does the ‘coolness factor’ of tablets alone add enough motivation (apparently so: see here and here and here) to justify the expenses? Wallace and Witus (2013), for example, argued that using iPads in the field and classroom increased their students overall confidence in their ability to use technology effectively.

To me there are three key issues for success. First, the institution has to provide the tablets with all needed apps and accessories (cases. stylus, etc.). Second, the institution has to provide adequate training for faculty and students so that time is not wasted figuring-out how the smart gizmos work. Finally, from a practical standpoint, the tablets have to be equipped with cellphone-based internet connectivity (3G, 4G, etc.) so students can immediately share their data and photographs.

How about this for a low-tech/high-tech alternative: Field Papers! or Virtual Fieldwork!

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