New Adventures in Technology Enhanced Fieldwork


Paul Buck

Here at the Department of Landscape, we’re always looking for new, creative ways of using technology to enhance student learning (TEL). This is one of my key roles as the department’s Learning Technologist. A recent example of this is a collaboration with lecturer Olaf Schroth and university teacher Thom White. Olaf, Thom and I get equally excited when we discover new technology that we can get creative with and repurpose for use in Landscape Architecture,  and that has the possibility of enhancing the learning and teaching experience for students and ourselves.

Olaf and Thom run two related 1st Year undergraduate modules based in the Loxley Valley region of Sheffield and we’ve been experimenting with 360 cameras, Google Street View, drones and GPS treasure hunt app Actionbound to enhance student engagement with the site.

Virtual Exploration using 360 Photography and Google Street View

One of the first things that excited me about the use of 360 cameras is the possibility that a landscape could be experienced virtually. In landscape architecture 360 photography could be used where it would not be geographically and/or financially practical for an entire group of students to visit, or in the case of the Loxley Valley site, it’s not time effective for students to make multiple visits. Having this resource allows limitless ‘visits’ for the student to explore, conduct and revisit the site survey throughout the course of the module. (George, 2016)

For the Loxley Valley module, Thom and I took one of our department’s 360 cameras and photographed a series of routes through the site, imported the photos into Google Street View and linked the routes together. I then created a map so that students could explore those routes.

Image Map
Red Route A
Red Route B
Purple Route A
Purple Route B
Orange Route A
Orange Route B
Blue Route A
Blue Route B
Route A

Route B
Green Route

The benefit of adding the images to Google Street view is that it adds a sense of direction and orientation for the user. The Google map in the lower left corner shows the virtual visitor’s location and direction they are looking. Viewing theses images with Google Cardboard can also be used as a way of immersing and orientating yourself in a site.

Drone google cardboard

Feedback from students has been very positive, saying it allowed them to go back and familiarise themselves and revise vegetation, built up areas, managed/unmanaged areas on the site, and also check elevations and views. I’m really excited about the potential of using this technology in the future, the possibility of giving students a chance to survey a site virtually half way across the world. There is inherent value in having landscape architecture students work on projects in foreign geographic regions and cultures. This includes providing students with the opportunity to tapping into experiences and knowledge from institutions outside academia, grapple with unfamiliar challenges, and explore alternative worldviews and value systems (Dave & Danahy,  2000). These tools could also be used to virtually experience seasonal change. The temporal nature of landscape is always an issue when visiting a site. Being able to virtually visit in any season and experience seasonal change is a huge advantage when working with a landscape and could have a major impact on a final design.We want to keep pushing this technology forward, the next step is to experiment with 360 video, to add a more experiential element in terms of movement and sound, two more extremely important sensory factors when conducting a site survey.We’re also in the early stages of researching the use of 360 photography in the creation of landscape visualisations, looking at ways that the photo could be edited, so that students could impose their designs on a 360 photo that a viewer could ‘experience’ rather than just view on paper or screen.

A Birds Eye View for a New Perspective – Using Drones (UAVs) for Site Surveys and Landscape Character Assessments

I’ve been experimenting and researching drones or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and their application in Landscape Architecture over the last year or so working with staff and students on various projects documenting landscapes,  including a SURE research project based in Whinfell Quarry, Sheffield with Lecturer Sally O’Halloran and helping final year students document the sites for their final projects.Lecturer Olaf Schroth has experimented with drones in past modules and research projects and is keenly aware of their benefits in Landscape Architecture. One of his ongoing research proposals involves drones and their use in mapping vegetation. Since drones are increasingly changing the industry as well (Wilders, 2016) he is also interested in practice applications of drones for landscape project documentation, land surveying and construction monitoring.

Drone 150826 Olaf & Chaoming 1 NA.jpg

Olaf therefore was very keen to introduce the benefits of this technology in his 1st year Landscape Character Assessment module. In this context, the aerial imagery has been particularly helpful in identifying field patterns from different time periods. Students are also using the imagery in their presentations and to communicate the perceptual and aesthetic dimension of the landscape. Students loved that they could get high quality images and video of the site and map out areas that were otherwise inaccessible.

Treasure Hunting – The Gamification of the Site Survey

When I first found out about Actionbound through a University Technology Enhanced Learning meeting, it was immediately obvious how this could benefit our students when out on a field trip or conducting a site survey. If you’re not familiar with the app, Actionbound is a geocaching app that allows you to use elements such as gps locations, maps, quizzes, missions, tournament, images, video, QR codes etc. to create treasure hunt style missions.

Drone actionbound selfies

The gamification, i.e. the use game design elements in non-game contexts to motivate learning, of survey and analysis (UN-GGIM, 2015) was something that Lecturer Thom White immediately saw the potential of as a more ‘modern’ and fun way of getting students to interact with the Loxley Valley site. The missions (or Bounds) were designed by Thom to encourage students to look at aspects of the site they might have ordinarily overlooked. It meant Thom could give information via the app, on site where it was more relevant. He included questions that allowed him to check and record students knowledge of key areas. It was also designed to be played in groups to encourage interaction between students of different nationality and personality. Thom also included a sketching element in his ‘bound’ by asking students to hand draw sections out on site and upload a photo afterwards.
Drone section

Our 1st year students were our test subjects for this app trial. There were a few teething technical issues but the feedback was generally positive saying they enjoyed it and it motivated them to engage with the site. They were also motivated by the air of competition the app created. This first trial was really promising for us as a department and i’m setting up new ‘Bounds’ for other modules. I’m currently working with DIrector of Learning and Teaching Mel Burton on a fifth year module to gamify a site survey in the Neepsend area of Sheffield.

Final Word

It’s fair to say we’re very excited about the potential of these new technologies. We are lucky enough to work in a department that encourages a healthy collaborative atmosphere. This creates opportunity for us to experiment, get creative with technology and produce results that will hopefully transform the teaching and learning of the site survey that our students will benefit from long term. Technology Enhanced Fieldwork is not a means in itself but a means to an end, i.e. motivating student learning, broadening their experience of the landscape, improving the accuracy of site surveys, and preparing our students for the 21st century job market.


George, B. H. (2016). Distributed Site Analysis Utilizing Drones and 360-degree Video, Journal of Digital Landscape Architecture, 1-2016, Herbert Wichmann Verlag / VDE VERLAG GMBH, Berlin/Offenbach, pp. 92–99,

  • Dave & J. Danahy (2000), Virtual Study Abroad and Exchange Studio. Automation in Construction, 9, 57-71.
  • Wilder (2016). Welcome to the drones club. Landscape. The journal of the Landscape Institute, Landscape Institute: London, 35–38.

United Nations Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management UN-GGIM (2015). Future Trends in geospatial information management: the five to ten year vision. Second Edition. Ordnance Survey: London.

Technology used

Ricoh 360 S 360 Panoramic Camera

DJI Phantom 4 Pro Drone

Actionbound Scavenger Hunt App (for creating image links)

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