It has been almost six months since I travelled on my first field trip abroad with a group of Masters students (and a couple of academics…), an expedition to Sicily during which I helped create some video-based learning resources. I thought now might be a good time to reflect on my experience in terms of planning the trip; filming the resources, and editing the videos once I got back. This will be a three-part blog in which I talk about each of those stages individually.
The trip was certainly a humbling experience for me, and I count myself fortunate to have been supported by my team and my manager and been allowed to travel to Sicily in what is usually an extraordinarily busy time of year for me in my role as an Online Course Developer.
So, where did it all begin?
Well, in September 2021 I delivered a workshop to a group of academic staff from our School of Environment, Geography and Geosciences. I talked about best practices in online learning within a Moodle framework and, at the end of the workshop, I asked – half-jokingly! – whether anyone had any field trips planned that year and would they consider taking me? (As I have posted in other articles, I have a passion for creating video-based resources. Up until that point I had worked on some great video projects, but all of them had been UK-based – mostly Portsmouth-based, though I did have one short day trip to West Sussex! After two years of Covid restrictions, and having not personally travelled outside of the country since 2016, I was desperate to spread my wings and push myself both in a personal and professional sense. So although my question was part in jest, I had good reasons for asking!)
Back to the workshop: an academic did indeed pipe up and said he was taking some students to Sicily in May for one of his modules. I arranged to meet him afterwards to discuss this further, and he told me he was keen to get some of the activities recorded (particularly if the resources could also be used for marketing material). We met on a Zoom call to decide on a plan of attack: he told me the planned dates and a rough outline of the itinerary, and from that, I had to determine whether there was enough scope for me to stay a whole week 1647 miles from home!
In terms of conceptualising resource development, I decided that I would like to make the best use of the tools that I am familiar with in Moodle. Recently, I have had a lot of experience with H5P and all of the activities that the software has to offer. On the other hand, I did not want my preferences to restrict the academic’s ideas too much: it is important that pedagogy comes first and the tool is chosen to support it, not the other way around.
So, to be able to bitesize this potentially mammoth project, we agreed to meet once a month to discuss one location and one resource. That way, we could focus our thinking on how to develop each activity. We took it step-by-step, first formulating a skeleton idea and then using a shared Google document to flesh it out in the time between meetings. I thought this was a great strategy to drive this project forward.
We came up with plans for three solid resources, plus another one involving climbing Mt Etna (although this was weather dependent as conditions are not always conducive to climbing a volcano). These resources were to feed into an Active Blended Learning (ABL) approach that we are fostering here at the University of Portsmouth. Our approach to ABL is to give students similar experiences in either a synchronous or asynchronous format. By filming and creating resources, students who were unable to attend the trip would still be able to have a meaningful experience and gain some knowledge from engaging with them. Additionally, if for some reason the trip had to be cancelled the following year, these resources could be pulled in with little notice to create a “virtual” field trip; students would thus not miss out as much. The hope for me is to be able to attend field trips each year and build a library of resources that academics can dip in and out of.
After making these plans, now was the time to run them past senior management. I needed to get some financial backing and the authorisation to be out of the office for a week at, as previously mentioned, the busiest time of year for me. Perhaps surprisingly, I got a green light with relative ease. There was still the threat that a major reappearance of Covid might cause the field trip to be cancelled and all that planning to be undone. So right until the week, we were due to fly I was not really getting my hopes up…
(Obviously, the field trip went ahead! In my next article, I’ll talk about the trip itself and my initial observations of working in a different country.)
Feature Image: Looking up towards an erupting Mt Etna from its lower ridges Credit: Jonny Bell