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Taking it outdoors: The OpenScience Lab to develop a Networked Field System with the Field Studies Council

Trevor Collins, Thursday 07 February 2013 | Annotate
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As part of the OU's OpenScience Lab, Trevor Collins and Chris Valentine have started a new collaboration with the Field Studies Council (FSC) to produce a portable web server and network to support outdoor learning. Trevor and Chris had their first meeting at the Preston Montford Field Studies Centre on Tuesday (February 6th) with Sam Rudd (Curriculum Development Manager, FSC), James Drever (IT Manager, FSC), Javi Hidalgo (Network Manager, FSC) and Jim Wright (Education Team Leader, Preston Montford Field Centre). Jim and Sam explained the types of activities they organise at the field centres, showing examples of the resources and equipment they use and the outdoor areas they teach in. James and Javi gave an overview of the technologies used at field centres, including the FLAIR system that was initiated in one of their Hack day events. We explained how we had got involved in developing portable networks for fieldwork and the key the lessons learned to date. The discussion then focused on how we could work together to produce a robust field kit to support a set of popular learning activities the field centre regularly run with visitors. Of the wide range of activities the centres provide, we decided to work initially with the team at Preston Montford to work up a few example case studies. This would enable us to create a generic system that could then be adapted for use in some of the other FSC centres (or by other groups through the OpenScience Lab). The two topics we'll be working on initially will be ponds and rivers, where we can draw on existing teaching materials for UK primary and secondary school levels as well as adult groups. We will trial the system with FSC staff and visitors as part of an iterative development cycle. The prototype will be designed and developed in the next couple of months, with field trials and further development running between April and June 2013. The idea for the project came about over a year ago at a showcase event at the Margam Field Centre organised by the HEA's 'Enhancing Fieldwork Learning' project. Trevor and John Lea (from KMI) where there demonstrating the work they'd been doing in the 'Enabling Remote Activity' project to provide a portable network to improve the accessibility of OU fieldwork courses for mobility impaired students. Julian Cremona (from the Dale Fort Field Studies Centre) was demonstrating the work he had been doing with students in Singapore, using iPads and Google Docs as a way of collating and sharing field data. The idea for the 'Network Field System' was to put the two together, so that students could use the web browser on a mobile device to access a local web server that would guide them to collect their field data, collate the data across groups and provide instant visualisations while still in the field without an internet connection.

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