Authors: Tim Stott
Abstract: This paper draws on experiences of designing, developing, using and evaluating a semantic web-based Virtual Field Guide (VFG), VirtualAlps 2.0, for teaching geosciences. The paper briefly reviews the previous use of VFGs to support students’ learning by fieldwork, highlighting some benefits. VFGs are considered to supplement real fieldwork, but not to become a substitute for it. We then outline the design considerations, development and staff and student evaluation of the Virtual Alps 2.0 VFG developed for level 6 undergraduates. The design and development of Virtual Alps 2.0 was undertaken by experts who were part of the Ensemble Project at Liverpool John Moores University. This paper describes the development of a pilot VFG which employs 'linked data' and 'semantic web' approaches to allow students to access diverse web-based resources, to explore the relations between them, and to then draw on these in the course of more authentic assessment activities than has hitherto been the case. The new assessment for which the VFG was developed, required students to assess the social, environmental and economic costs and benefits of a proposed hydro-electric reservoir in a Swiss Alpine Valley. The VFG provided students with real environmental data, maps, photographs, video and links to relevant research papers which students used to make interpretations and draw their conclusions about the feasibility of such a scheme. Their answers were then subjected to analysis and students’ work from the assessment task based on VirtualAlps 2.0 demonstrated a wider range of skills (performing calculations, drawing graphs & diagrams themselves, creating more tabulations and making more opinions/decisions) than in a traditional essay which had been the assessment task set in previous years. This study shows the potential to use specifically designed interactive 'Web 2.0' innovations to enhance students’ decision making skills in an assessment which we argue prepares them better for employment. Geoscience and the world of employment for geoscientists is in a state of flux at present, and the ability to work using linked data and semantic web approaches is now an important skill for graduates to be able to offer.
Keywords: fieldwork; virtual field guide; decision making; student assessment; skill acquisition; emplyoment