CALRG Conf: Out There and In Here

Back on to the liveblogging of the CALRG conference – Anne Adams, Tim Coughlan, Trevor Collins, Sarah Davies, et al on ‘Out There and In Here (OTIH) Connected to place, task and others through innovative technologies’.

ESRC/EPSRC Digital Economies project, working with Microsoft and others.

Anne introduces the project. It’s building on the Enabling Remote Activity work – field trip learning, opening it up for people with disabilities etc [see earlier post on ERA, and on the technology in ERA and PI]. Takes it a step further – Anneka Rice Treasure Hunt style activity. Gaming focus; collaborative activity. Field work activity linked with lab activity. Want to develop business plan, middleware, and understand about equity in these situations and using devices in the labs.

Workshops, reflective posters with scientists, students, identifying characteristics of fieldwork in environmental science. Around understanding the situation deeply, and practice – things like immersion, sensory experiences, and so on.

Have reviewed sites, paper prototyping, learning activities.

Two key issues: Out There – data gathering and evaluation; In Here – high data gathering, synthesis and evaluation. Joint goal around hypothesis generating, evidence, voting, final report.

Trevor picks up on the field work.

Example site: Bedfordshire sand quarry, with 3G mobile broadband coverage. Which is great for the general area – but specific areas they’re interested in (e.g. bottom of quarry, or cliff) is a blackspot. So set up a local wifi network in the field site, using the 3G network to connect back to the OU via a dongle.

Backhaul option (linking the field wifi back to the OU): ADSL broadband would be good for bandwidth, but not available. Satellite link would be very flexible, very reliable, very standardised … but very expensive. 3G mobile link is the best tradeoff. Field LAN is made from a 3G access point and router, plus Ubiquiti WiFi access points (suitable for field use), linking to a range of portable devices.

Service architecture – In Here / Out There Server/Client. Services include: VOIP for talk; file transfer for photo upload (field server synced to OU server) so field and lab can see through web browser; and synchronous chat/instant messaging (XMPP based), with own servers.

Tim moves on to the lab setup. Trying to understand what sort of activity will really work. Data collection and analysis, with hypothesising.

Setup has command and control style room – to support the lab people to work on individual and cooperative research. Review and discussion around and through a table (Microsoft Surface).

Equipment: Tabletop Surface. Projected displays – passive information presentation. Exercises are time constrained, so need synchronicity and coordination. Desktop computers for more individual work.

Surface can work on tagged objects – e.g. rocks, fossils – with a barcode on the bottom, so it can serve as part of the interface to the system. Physical resources objects – items related to the physical objects (maps, information, etc); also can have personal ones, to collect files, carousel file viewer, voting interface. Connection with the field – view files, send files out, show location, activity, manage voice links.

Anne rounds up. Field trials in August and September. Want to know about what aspects of ‘Out There’ can be reproduced ‘In Here’ – without detriment to ‘Out There’, or even improve it? And what structures support these forms of inquiry-based distanced group learning. And fundamentally – how is this scalable to larger numbers of students, especially in business terms. Also want to look at other contexts.


Someone: We have students elsewhere than ‘Out There’ or ‘In Here’ – how do we address a ‘normal’ working-from-home student experience?

Anne: Two avenues. Concept of ‘live’ – not synchronous – activity, can contribute/connect to activity happening in real time, voting, etc. Second is recording things, as with Treasure Hunt, can see the live process – see the process and the data collection imperfections.

Alice Peasgood: Interesting to see what activities the technology naturally supports, and what would be the highest priority on a field trip to a quarry. E.g. some rocks smell different, can tell whether it’s porous if it’s raining, etc. Overarching question around the tension between producing a whole new activity (technology strength) versus mediating an already-existing activity.

Anne: Not going to be as perfect as a real field trip. The tangible objects are a key item – they are real items from the real site, so can lick the rocks (!) in the lab. And sounds. Gives some element of the sensory experience, but it doesn’t replace it, is a step closer to it. A progression.

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Author: dougclow

Experienced project leader, data scientist, researcher, analyst, teacher, developer, educational technologist and manager. I particularly enjoy rapidly appraising new-to-me contexts, and mediating between highly technical specialisms and others, from ordinary users to senior management. After 20 years at the OU as an academic, I am now a self-employed consultant, building on my skills and experience in working with people, technology, data science, and artificial intelligence, in the education field and beyond.