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Remote and virtual teaching of practical and fieldwork skills: lessons learnt from the pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic constrained many educational institutions to virtual learning environments and significantly reduced in person delivery. This was particularly difficult for subjects focused on acquiring practical skills conventionally taught through hands-on methods (labs, practicals, field courses etc). Consequently, novel approaches have been developed to maintain learning outcomes.

This session is an opportunity for scientists, educators, and other practitioners to share and explore the creative and innovative ways practical teaching has been implemented within a geosciences environment.

Convener: Philippa CowlesECSECS | Co-conveners: Liz Jones, Beth BarnesECSECS, Christopher PearsonECSECS, José Luis Lerma
| Mon, 23 May, 15:10–16:40 (CEST)
Room 1.14

Mon, 23 May, 15:10–16:40

Chairpersons: Philippa Cowles, Liz Jones


Friedrich Hawemann et al.

The last two years of global pandemic forced many traditional classes to be cancelled and alternative teaching solutions to be sought, which triggered development of substantial virtual resources for training in geological field work. Virtual geology has proven to have significant advantages over traditional field work in aspects such as: 1) ability to include people with physical limitations, 2) reduction of costs for students, 3) flexible working hours, 4) independence of weather conditions. Nevertheless, most geoscience lecturers would agree that virtual classes are unable to entirely replace on-site classes, because they do not allow development of certain observational skills and 3D perception, field hardiness, or in-person team communications. We therefore propose a hybrid course design within the European Universities “FORTHEM” framework, which integrates virtual and on-site teaching techniques. This course not only demonstrates novel teaching methodology but also trains students to integrate variable sources of information; such capabilities are critical to allow graduate geoscientists to thrive in our current information age.

The field area is located in Molinos, Teruel province of eastern Spain, where a fossil-rich Jurassic-Cretaceous sedimentary sequence is exposed. The record mainly comprises marine units, which reveal changes in depositional environment that reflect paleoclimate changes. However, the area is extensively folded and faulted, and thus the tectonic deformation needs to be unraveled in order to determine the original depositional sequences. Students participating on-site will therefore study the fossil record of the rocks, measure faults and folds and create a geological map of the area. A second group of students will work from their home, examining the microfossils in thin section images and use 3D models of outcrops to describe the geometry of folds and faults, and perform digital geological mapping with the aid of satellite images. The two groups of students will be working on the same challenges but on different scales and thus an exchange of field and digital observations between students will be encouraged and required to obtain a holistic understanding of the local geology. As an outcome of this course students will reconstruct a timeline of environmental changes through the Jurassic-Cretaceous period. All data will be collected in database driven applications, allowing swift exchange of data, and its longer term preservation in a uniform format.

How to cite: Hawemann, F., Kirilova, M., Toy, V., Fenske, S., and Seelos, P.: A hybrid online/on-site field trip: Reconstructing Earth’s Past Climate from the sedimentary record. , EGU General Assembly 2022, Vienna, Austria, 23–27 May 2022, EGU22-5209, https://doi.org/10.5194/egusphere-egu22-5209, 2022.

Hans de Bresser and Liviu Matenco

The master’s degree programmes Earth Structure and Dynamics and Earth Life and Climate at Utrecht University, The Netherlands, include the option to join a research-oriented fieldwork in the Betic Cordillera, SE-Spain. The fieldwork is a 200-hour course where the students learn how to set up and develop a field project with a specific research question, and write a report on the results in a publication format. Students work in teams of two with their own research questions and working area. The focus is diverse and ranges from tectonics, basin development, structural geology or metamorphic geology, to environmental and climate related topics in terms of sedimentology, stratigraphy, paleontology and biogeology.

Covid-19 restrictions have prevented conducting this fieldwork in the last two years. To avoid study delays, the field course has been converted into a virtual fieldwork that that took place in the same academic time slot as the usual field study. This conversion has also allowed the creation of new working methods and virtual resources to benefit in the future.

The virtual fieldwork was focussed in the same subareas as the real fieldwork; in the Sierra de los Filabres metamorphic range (structures and deformation history, petrology and metamorphic history) and the adjacent Sorbas basin (kinematic and depositional evolution). We compiled data sets with measurements of bedding and sediment transport directions, foliations, fold axes, (stretching) lineations and shear senses along shear zones, and faults in both areas. We also collected field photographs, including panoramas of key outcrops. For the metamorphic range, full-scanned thin-sections were available by using the ZEISS ZEN lite as a Digital Microscope for Thin Section Analysis. Detailed sedimentological columns were also available in the Sorbas Basin, as well as geo-referenced geological and topographic maps for all areas.

The students studied and worked with the fully geo-referenced material by making use of Google Earth or their converted equivalent in shape files. They analysed the outcrops in the same way as they would do in the field, had to decide on what exact data to use and how to combine observations to answer their research questions, in combination with existing relevant literature.

In our presentation, we will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of our virtual field work. The combination of prefab data sets and extensive use of literature resulted in more in-depth insight in the evolution of the studied area than has been reached in the past in a normal fieldwork. In contrast, the students learned less on how to filter the right observations form the overload of data available in the field, and they got less experience in dealing with uncertainties. And, not unimportantly, they had less fun. We believe that an optimal combination of preparing student fieldwork with virtual datasets and onsite fieldwork is the future way to advance fieldwork learning.

How to cite: de Bresser, H. and Matenco, L.: Virtual fieldwork in the Betic Cordillera, SE-Spain, EGU General Assembly 2022, Vienna, Austria, 23–27 May 2022, EGU22-6148, https://doi.org/10.5194/egusphere-egu22-6148, 2022.

Fabio Luca Bonali et al.

Field-based classes in geological sciences are crucial components of geoscience education and research. Owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, such activities became problematic due to limitations such as travel restrictions and lockdown periods: this motivated the geoeducational community to tailor new ways to engage people in field activities. As a result, we adopted Immersive Virtual Reality as a tool to involve students, academics, and the lay public in field exploration, thus making geological exploration accessible also to people affected by permanent or temporary motor disabilities. In particular, we evaluated how users perceive the usefulness of this approach as applied to Earth Science learning and teaching, through nine outreach events, where a total of 459 participants were involved, with different ages and cultural backgrounds. The participants explored, in an immersive mode, four geological landscapes, defined as virtual geological environments, which have been reconstructed by cutting-edge, unmanned aerial system-based photogrammetry techniques. They include: Santorini (Greece), the North Volcanic Zone (Iceland), and Mt. Etna (Italy). After the exploration, each participant filled in an anonymous questionnaire. The results show that the majority would be willing to repeat the experience, and, most importantly, the majority of the students and Earth Science academics who took part in the navigation confirmed the usefulness of this technique for geo-education purposes. Our approach can be considered as a groundbreaking tool and an innovative democratic way to access information and experiences, as well as to promote inclusivity and accessibility in geo-education, while reducing travel costs, saving time, and decreasing the carbon footprint. This work has been carried out in the framework of the following projects: i) ACPR15T4_ 00098 “Agreement between the University of Milan Bicocca and the Cometa Consortium for the experimentation of cutting-edge interactive technologies for the improvement of science teaching and dissemination” of Italian Ministry of Education, University and Research (ARGO3D - https://argo3d.unimib.it/); ii) Erasmus+ Key Action 2 2017-1-UK01-KA203- 036719 “3DTeLC – Bringing the 3D-world into the classroom: a new approach to Teaching, Learning and Communicating the science of geohazards in terrestrial and marine environments” (http://3dtelc.lmv.uca.fr/; https://www.3dtelc.com/); iii) 2018 EGU Public Engagement Grants (https://www.egu.eu/outreach/peg/).

How to cite: Bonali, F. L., Russo, E., Vitello, F., Antoniou, V., Tibaldi, A., Fallati, L., Bracchi, V., Savini, A., Whitworth, M., Drymoni, K., Pasquaré Mariotto, F., Nomikou, P., Sciacca, ‬., Bressan, S., Falsaperla, S., Reitano, D., van Wyk de Vries, B., Panieri, G., Stiller-Reeve, M. A., and Becciani, U. and the others: Immersive Virtual Reality for Geo-education: feedback from students, academics and the lay public, EGU General Assembly 2022, Vienna, Austria, 23–27 May 2022, EGU22-11553, https://doi.org/10.5194/egusphere-egu22-11553, 2022.

Julian Owin

This paper deals with the creation of a virtual excursion in the Rheinisches Schiefergebirge between Rüdesheim and Lorch. The virtual excursion serves as a supplementary teaching method for students of geosciences. The challenges posed by the Corona pandemic also require a rethinking of how excursions are conducted. These are highly relevant in the field of geosciences, as the study programme is very practice-oriented and thus the theoretical basics can be applied practically. Furthermore, excursions involve not only spatial but also physical challenges. With the help of the digital excursion, the students have the opportunity to explore the area on their own, without the presence of the supervising lecturer, and to evaluate the information provided about the rock. In addition to an overview of the location and size of the rock, detailed representations of the structure of the rock are also available. In order to be able to present this depth of information in digital form, Google-KMZ files (https://seafile.rlp.net/d/f2e4fc83a52b4a749f2d/) and 3D models of the area to be explored were created using a digital camera, a GPS device and photogrammetry software. 

Even though the digital excursion offers a wealth of data about the rock to be explored, they are not intended to replace classical excursions, but rather to complement them. In addition, they offer meaningful support for the teaching of geosciences.

How to cite: Owin, J.: Virtual excursion in the "Rheinisches Schiefergebirge" between Rüdesheim and Lorch, EGU General Assembly 2022, Vienna, Austria, 23–27 May 2022, EGU22-11339, https://doi.org/10.5194/egusphere-egu22-11339, 2022.

Mariia Oliinyk et al.

Field research is an integral part of the educational process in the Earth sciences. Сovid-19 restricted our movement on the territory of Ukraine. Our team decided to create virtual geological objects. We present the results of creating a virtual route along the Cheremosh River.

The results of this road will be used for one of the educational courses at the Institute of Geodesy. In the summer, we organized several field trips to create virtual geological objects. The digital models created by us will become the main source of information for students. During the pandemic, we did not have the opportunity to make trips for groups of students and we forsee it. Thanks to the visualization of the outcrops, we skip the field stage for students and we emphasize the cameral stage in our course. In the first lecture we will tell about the idea and history of our creation of this course, give examples of programs and show the processing of data collected by us.

The geological outcrops we study are located in the Skyba and Boryslav-Pokuttia nappes of the Outer Ukrainian Carpathians. The stratigraphic section is represented by a flysch complex ranging in age from Cretaceous to Neogene. The second important complex is the lower molasses of the Neogene age. In outcrops we observe a number of structures that are important for structural geology, sedimentology and others.

To create our objects, we used two methods – terrestrial laser scanning (TLS) and digital photogrammetry (SfM). Both of these methods allow to gather collection of geological data on outcrops rapidly and these data have usually high quality. Information about the structure of outcrops is presented in the form of a cloud of points that allows you to build three-dimensional models of outcrops (DOM).


How to cite: Oliinyk, M., Bubniak, I., Bubniak, A., and Bihun, M.: Virtual geological road in Cheremosh river valley, Outer Ukrainian Carpathians, EGU General Assembly 2022, Vienna, Austria, 23–27 May 2022, EGU22-197, https://doi.org/10.5194/egusphere-egu22-197, 2022.

Oscar Fernández

Field work is one of the fundamental tools for teaching structural geology. Remote teaching conditions over the past two years have represented a major challenge to in-person field trips with students. Whereas online and outdoor teaching are completely different in nature, online activities can be used to reach many of the objectives typically associated with in-person teaching.

In this presentation I will discuss the example of a 2-hour virtual field-trip organized for a specialist audience composed of experienced structural geologists and experienced geologists from other disciplines. The field trip was run to the Northern Calcareous Alps (Austria) and deals with brittle tectonics (mainly salt tectonics). The same field trip has later been modified (simplified) and offered to a mixed background of geoscientists. Both experienced structural geologists and a mixed audience were surveyed after the end of the field trip.

Feedback indicates that the virtual field trip proved to be a time- and resource-effective way of delivering overview content and fostering targeted discussion. Of particular value was the fact that the virtual environment made it possible for attendees to individually explore information in a georeferenced setting (in Google Earth) and key outcrops that had been generated in 3D and loaded to an open website (www.sketchfab.com).

Attendees also noted that the main drawbacks of the virtual setting were being at the usual workplace and the lack of the opportunity to think and discuss during field stops. They also highlighted that the single most critical factor in making a virtual field trip a success is the instructor (over other factors such as length or format of the field trip material). Finally, attendees mostly indicated that the virtual field trip would not replace an in-person experience, but rather acts as a complement.

Although the experience obtained with this field trip is limited and lacks a comparison to the equivalent in-person field-trip, it supports the idea that virtual field-trips can be used as: 1) complementary activities to in-person field-trips, particularly to deliver pre-trip background; 2) a cost- and time-effective way of delivering project results and enabling peer-to-peer discussions.

How to cite: Fernández, O.: Thoughts on cooking up a virtual field-trip in Google Earth and its digestion, EGU General Assembly 2022, Vienna, Austria, 23–27 May 2022, EGU22-7158, https://doi.org/10.5194/egusphere-egu22-7158, 2022.


Carla Barnaba et al.

The National Institute of Oceanography and Applied Geophysics – OGS is engaged in a wide range of educational and training activities for more than a decade, mainly focused on seismic risk mitigation through data acquisition in the field and practical stages. To by-pass the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2021 OGS started a new project, deployed in fully remote mode, to involve high-school students and increase their risk awareness and preparedness. The Project, named “CEDAS: building CEnsus for seismic Damage Assessment”, consists in the collection and elaboration of data which is included in the exposure database. Knowing the type and distribution of exposed assets, in particular buildings, is thus paramount for effective mitigation of disasters. The students classified and georeferenced the main residential buildings typologies of northeastern Italy, a seismically active area which suffered consequences from strong past earthquakes. During the project, 170 high school students collected reports on more than 3200 buildings, performing a statistical analysis of their results.

The project activities consisted of two main phases: plenary virtual training meetings and individual data collection and processing. Tutors held intermediate meetings with students for verification and discussion and brainstorming sessions with their professors to discuss the efficacy of their actions. All the meetings, including those for direct training of students, were delivered in virtual mode. The training material (including the meeting recordings) was then shared remotely with students and teachers through cloud solutions, and remained available during the whole project. In this way the students were able to both collect basic data for exposure assessment, and carry out their preliminary analysis using standard statistical tools available online. The comparative data analysis, performed for selected sub-areas and for the overall dataset, allowed them for some basic interpretation and a better understanding of the exposed assets situation in sub-areas. The CEDAS project, though motivated by the need to provide a practical solution to the COVID-19-related restrictions, went well beyond the emergency situation, as it demonstrated that training activities can contribute to both enhancing the available exposure dataset and to increasing risk awareness among young students in the region.


How to cite: Barnaba, C., Peresan, A., Scaini, C., Poggi, V., and Tamaro, A.: Lessons learned from high-school students contribute to exposure database, EGU General Assembly 2022, Vienna, Austria, 23–27 May 2022, EGU22-2744, https://doi.org/10.5194/egusphere-egu22-2744, 2022.

Annie Ockelford et al.

Fieldwork features prominently in national subject benchmark statements for geography, earth and environmental sciences. Field learning tends to involve a problem-centred approach, often with more open-ended questions, which fosters greater motivation in the students and encourages acceptance of uncertainty and context-dependent outcomes. The current Covid-19 pandemic has meant a move to online teaching, especially for field work learning. Academics have had to offer virtual fieldtrips as alternatives to in-person field teaching as a rapid response to the pandemic, often without prior experience of the relevant IT and pedagogy.

Whilst some premade fieldtrips are available for purchase, they can be expensive, with some having limited applicability for the region of interest for individual modules, thereby not meeting students learning outcome requirements. Therefore, during the pandemic there has been a need for individual academics to develop their own virtual fieldtrips which are tailored to the specific needs of their students. 

ThingLink is an education platform which allows users to undertake virtual ‘walk throughs’ and 360 immersive experiences. Thinglink is fully Microsoft compliant and has options to link to external resources, embedded audio, video and still photographs.  In this talk, we will introduce you to ThingLink (with comparisons to other options e.g., ESRI StoryMaps and Google Explore) and its use for creating custom fieldtrips. We will also reflect on examples, from our three universities, of how we have used it for different undergraduate virtual fieldtrips. The fieldtrips focused on sampling techniques across a variety of habitats, including sampling design and assessing typical sampling errors, fluvial geomorphology and analysing cross sectional hydraulics, and geology and landform interpretation.

How to cite: Ockelford, A., Pattison, Z., Hutchinson, S., and Evans, A.: Exploring the use of ‘ThingLink’ in delivering online virtual fieldtrips, EGU General Assembly 2022, Vienna, Austria, 23–27 May 2022, EGU22-10061, https://doi.org/10.5194/egusphere-egu22-10061, 2022.

Stefanie Lutz et al.

The Covid-19 pandemic has severely affected possibilities for students to do field work and thereby train their team work skills. Under the uncertain conditions of the pandemic, teachers might be reluctant to plan field courses months ahead, and students and teachers might not feel comfortable or are simply not allowed to travel in larger groups. This calls for approaches that allow students to do field work in small groups in their own time and to integrate individual group results into a course-wide learning goal. In this contribution, we will share our experiences with the Nitrate App developed by Deltares, which enables students to do water quality measurements with minimal prior instructions and without supervision by teachers. The Nitrate App is a smartphone application that reads nitrate concentrations from test strips and stores them in a shared database. The app has been originally developed to support farmers in measuring nitrate concentrations and derive best management practices from these. While farmers make great use of this application, the Nitrate App has been increasingly employed for educational purposes. At the same time, educational use of this app can also feed back into water management, as this allows collecting nitrate concentration data at much finer spatial resolution than possible in regional water quality monitoring networks. The directly available measurement results allow for ad hoc decisions about measurement strategies for example to identify the source of high nitrate concentrations. We will illustrate recent examples of how the Nitrate App has been employed in field work assignments of Bachelor’s and Master’s geoscience courses as well as in elementary school education.

How to cite: Lutz, S., Rozemeijer, J., Buijs, S., and Ekkelenkamp, R.: Water quality is exciting even during a pandemic: students measure and interpret nitrate concentrations using the Nitrate App, EGU General Assembly 2022, Vienna, Austria, 23–27 May 2022, EGU22-7640, https://doi.org/10.5194/egusphere-egu22-7640, 2022.

Jan Seibert et al.

The pandemic has changed teaching dramatically. Similar to many other university teachers, we were faced with an unprecedented situation when the university closed in spring 2020, a few weeks after the start of the semester. In this presentation, we report and discuss our experiences from teaching a first-year Bachelor level introductory course in Hydrology with almost 200 students. In particular, we focus on the excursion for this course. We were in the fortunate position that we had started to develop a new smartphone-based self-guided excursion on the topic of ‘Water in the city’. We accelerated this development and used it to replace the traditional group excursion, which had to be cancelled. We used the self-guided excursion again in 2021.The student feedback was overall very positive, and therefore we plan to continue to use the excursion in the coming years. In this presentation, we describe the excursion, discuss the experiences of the students, and present materials and ideas that could be useful for similar excursions at other universities.

How to cite: Seibert, J., Schwarzenbach, F., and van Meerveld, I.: Self-guided smartphone excursions in university teaching – experiences from exploring ‘Water in the City’ , EGU General Assembly 2022, Vienna, Austria, 23–27 May 2022, EGU22-6343, https://doi.org/10.5194/egusphere-egu22-6343, 2022.


Closing Remarks