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Out There and In Here: Connected to place, task and others through innovative technologies

Presentation at CALRG annual conference 2010

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Rebecca Ferguson
25 May 2010

Presentation at CALRG annual conference 2010
Anne Adams, Tim Coughlan, John Lea,Yvonne Rogers, Trevor Collins, Sarah Davies, Steve Swithenby, Abigail Sellen, Dan Medicoff.

This presentation describes current developments for collaborative learning in the 'Out There and In Here' project. A system is being developed for synchronous collaboration between geology students in the field and peers at an indoor location. Here we explain the project rationale and pilot studies, and initial results from analysis of over 150 expert responses on geology field learning issues, which have directed design decisions in the project.

Extra content

Gill's liveblogged notes:

Interesting project called Out there and in here – using mobile technologies to include disabled students in field trip (based on ERA project). This new project (started in March) takes it further along the lines of Anneka Rice Treasure Hunt.

Emphasis on engaging users. Key issues are around the "out there" people in the field data gathering hypothesis driven approach. People "in here" doing a higher level data gathering maps, concepts. Joint goal is hypothesis generation, evidence justification and then voting and final report. Real and deliberate collaboration between both the mobile and the home-based students.

The out there example that the project will work in is a bedfordshire sand quarry. Enabling students to understand how sand has been laid down over time. Health and safety important in live sand quarries. Every time you visit it, the landscape will have been changed.

Technical implications
Trevor shows a picture of sand quarry - 3G mobile tower on horizon is key. Good 3G coverage a practical aspect to supporting this sort of technology supported collaboration. Often, there are 3G blackspots - at the bottom of the quarry for instance, so they create a local wireless network down in the pit of the quarry that connects to the modem with the 3G dongle (within range of the 3G mast).

Having created the LAN, you can connect anything into it (mobile phones, little laptops, sensors, cameras etc) and share information with the people "in here"

Voice servers to offer VOIP (Skype) totally free channel of communication.

Apache-based web server in field to allow file sharing (pictures from the field stored on field server and then synchronised on server at OU). People "in here" can see what those "out there" are doing and likewise, maps etc found by people "in here" can be viewed by those out in the field.

Chat services for text chat (like messenger). Dialogue supported without taking up too much resources - 8bits per second. Heavy data, photographs etc, managed through server channel.

Activity Outline
Inquiry based activities to inform hypotheses. Data collection/analysis ->hypothesising/relating to evidence and voting ->Report (end goal).

In Here:

  • Table-top touch surface - acting like a window on what the "out there" students are doing.
  • Also using projected displays to give activity information such as timetable, clock, recent activity (incoming data, hypotheses) static camera feed etc.
  • Desktop machines for collecting data, text chat etc.

Surface tabletops support physical objects with barcode tag as an interface. This can be used as a physical resource. Set of resources about type of fossils could be provided to the group the fossil or rock itself could also be a resource.

GPS can be used to enable "in here" students to know where objects are and what "out there" students are getting up to.

Ann Adams:

Overall aim to replicate the "out there" experience in an equitable way. Looking into things like data pens etc to allow people "out there" to do what they normally do rather than requiring them to do something such as taking photos that they would not normally do.

Gill Clough
09:36 on 25 May 2010 (Edited 09:42 on 25 May 2010)

Doug's liveblog notes, crossposted from my blog:

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.

Doug Clow
10:05 on 25 May 2010

Embedded Content


anne adams
7:52am 14 June 2010

There have also been several people commenting in later conversations that there is milage to two aspects that this project is seeking to review:

1.  WHERE THE STUDENT IS:  many people out there, potentially colledting their own data at many different locations linked to a single room full of experts / lecturers / tutors who are synthesising reviewing adn supporting this understanding 'live'.  Means that you can deal with more students - out there - on multiple technologies (on a PC, mobile phone, laptop) in multiple different locations.  BUT understanding the value of situated learning in 'their' - the STUDENTS location.    Why do we alwasy expect the student to morph into  'our' academic work rather than use what they are learning to interpt where they are. 

2. WHEN THE STUDENT COMMUNICATES:  there is a lot of value in the concept of 'live' even if you are only viewing something you know it is happening somewhere 'right now' which seems to highten the reality of the event and make what is happening more realistic.   Mass media (e.g. TV) have been utilising the success of this concept for years. 

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