Using Interactive Virtual Field Guides and Linked Data in Geoscience Teaching and Learning

  • Tim Stott
  • Kate Litherland
  • Patrick Carmichael
  • Anne-Marie Nuttall
Part of the Innovations in Science Education and Technology book series (ISET, volume 20)


This chapter draws on experiences of designing, developing, using and evaluating web-based Virtual Field Guides (VFGs) for teaching geosciences. The chapter 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 two VFGs: (1) the Ingleton Waterfalls Trail in Yorkshire developed for Foundation degree students and (2) the Virtual Alps VFG developed for level 2/3 undergraduates. The design and development of these VFGs was undertaken using different approaches, and the advantages and disadvantages of these different approaches are discussed. The Ingleton Waterfalls VFG was developed by a team comprising two academics, one technician and two web developers. Based on the experiences of developing the Ingleton Waterfalls VFG, the Virtual Alps VFG, on the other hand, was developed by two academics, with limited support/input from web developers.

The technological background against which VFGs are used has changed from the 1990s ‘Web 1.0’ standards to embrace the interactive ‘Web 2.0’ innovations, ‘open data’ initiatives and interest in how ‘user-generated content’ can be used to complement and extend existing databases and online collections. These developments have changed not only the practice of geoscientists in general; they also offer new possibilities for VFGs and the role they play in teaching and learning. The chapter reviews some of these developments, in particular, the emergence of a ‘linked web of data’ for the geosciences, and concludes with a description and discussion 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 chapter concludes with a discussion of how the development of VFGs and their associated technologies might produce a shift in their use from being visual representation tools towards their use to develop skills necessary in practice, thus assimilating online tools into an expanding and evolving set of discourses and practices, rather than replacing or causing the loss of traditional disciplinary skills.


Video Clip Field Trip Fluvial Process Ensemble Project Metadata Record 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council


Economic and Social Research Council


File transfer protocol


Geosciences Ontology


Global Observing Systems Information Center


Hydroelectric Power


Liverpool John Moores University


National Aeronautics and Space Administration


Scanning Electron Microscope


United States Geological Survey


Virtual Field Guide


World Health Organization


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tim Stott
    • 1
  • Kate Litherland
    • 1
  • Patrick Carmichael
    • 1
  • Anne-Marie Nuttall
    • 2
  1. 1.Faculty of Education, Community and LeisureLiverpool John Moores UniversityLiverpoolUK
  2. 2.Faculty of ScienceLiverpool John Moores UniversityLiverpoolUK

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