Virtual field courses: widening access to ecosystems



Author (s) Wendy Harris, Marc Holmes, Aisling Devine, Dan Eastwood, Dan Forman, Naomi Ginnever, Ian Horsfall, Penny Neyland, Laura Roberts, Gabriela Pinto-Juma, Gethin Thomas


Biosciences are experiencing increasing numbers of students with a range of disabilities, challenging our abilities to provide experiential learning opportunities for all students. We are working together with the Immersive Media department to create a library of interactive videos to improve cohort integration and engagement through opportunities to experience (virtual) field environments. Students will be able to use the library to achieve 3 potential objectives: to facilitate their own learning through prior access to the field environment; to develop field biology skills without direct access to field environments, and to familiarise themselves with novel habitats and/or ecosystems. Students will be able to access through existing online infrastructure, and actively contribute to their own learning experience, as well as making positive connections to students unable to access the field environment or unfamiliar with the habitat, specifically overseas/ethnic minority students or those with disabilities.


The role of experiential learning is to enhance the development of subject-specific theory and techniques (e.g. experimental design), transferable skills (e.g. independent learning) and personal development (e.g. respect for the environment), and to encourage active learning. Students experiencing field work will generally perform better, but field work may also promote a model of privilege and exclusion, in particular for students from ethnic minorities or those unable to access the environment. Many departments are under increasing pressure from increasing numbers of students with some measure of disability. We show that collaboration across disciplines and specific integration of technology can help widen access to specific learning techniques, even when students are unable to physically access the environment. This technology will also be beneficial to students who are unfamiliar with the specific nature of the habitat being studied, and those wishing to explore the area and its associated species prior to visiting the habitat. The technology and methods implemented here may also be relevant for practical classes and recording specific practical techniques or methods.

Key Words

Inclusivity, technology, fieldwork, biosciences, virtual reality

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