ERA toolkit used on OU Environmental Science field courses

KMI’s Enabling Remote Activity (ERA) project has been mobilised again recently to support the accessibility of Environmental Science field courses. The OU’s use of the portable communications toolkit enables mobility impaired students to participate fully in field courses. The flexibility of the kit means that for sites which some students are unable to reach, the students and their tutors can quickly select and deploy the tools they need to access the site remotely. The kit has been used previously to support Geology field courses (SXR339 and SXR369), but this year was the first time it was used on an Environmental Science course.

The ERA kit includes a set of battery-powered WiFi routers, which are used to create a temporary communications network at a fieldwork site. Within the OU’s field courses, web and telephone (VoIP) services running on a laptop computer facilitate remote access to difficult to reach field sites by nearby students. The toolkit supports the sharing of photographs (using a WiFi camera), video streams (using IP cameras and video encoders) and phone calls (using VoIP applications) on mobile devices.

As part of the second level ‘Practical Environmental Science’ course (OU code SXE288) the ERA kit was used this year on two three day residential courses, namely the ‘Hydrology and Meteorology’ course at Malham Tarn in April and the ‘Vegetation and Soils in the Field’ course at Preston Montford in July. In both courses students work in groups to apply their course knowledge and develop their field skills through an assessed project.

The feedback received from the course participants was very encouraging:

    “The ERA technology was superb, without it, I would have been a spectator, instead, I was a contributor.” (Steven, OU student)

    “The technology allowed Steven to see how different measurements and readings were taken in the field. I took many of the readings whilst Stephen used ERA to watch from a distance. Having watched the readings being taken, the results were, I believe, more meaningful to Stephen than just pure data recordings.” (Chris, Steven’s note-taking assistant)

    “I thought it was very successful use of ERA for environmental science and liked that it was adaptable and available to be used when needed by the student.” (Dr Sarah Davies, tutor and course team member)

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ERA base for remotely accessing Malham Tarn outflow – 30th April 2014
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A camera person at Malham Tarn outlflow relaying video back to the remote student
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Field group discussing the Malham Tarn outflow
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ERA base for remotely accessing bracken site on Stapley Hill – 23rd July 2014
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Field site for surveying plant species on Stapley Hill