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University of Exeter develops 3D virtual field trips



A team from the University of Exeter has developed a tool based on 3D gaming technology to create virtual field trips for students and researchers.

Named the Interactive Virtual Environments for Teaching and Assessment – InVEnTA – it uses the latest 3D imaging to take them to simulated environments for all parts of the world.

This has included ice sheets in the Arctic and a more local case study focused on the geography of Devon beach and cliffs.

The initiative has been led by a team of senior lecturers in physical geography – Dr Steven Palmer, Dr Damien Mansell and Dr Anne Le Brocq – and been by the University of Exeter Education Incubator, which creates spaces in which academics can explore and develop innovations and ideas.

Palmer said: “We’ve used data collected by a fixed wing drone during a 2017 research field trip to create an immersive environment to show how, from a computer anywhere in the world, lecturers can take students on a virtual field trip to the glacier.

“Instead of controlling weapons in a ‘shoot ‘em up game’, students can control where they go in the virtual environment. It helps people visualise what is happening and understand the processes under way. This is also useful for scientific research as well as teaching.

“In one scenario, lecturers create a virtual environment which students then visit. In a second scenario, which provides a much more active learning experience, the tool is given to the student so they create the virtual environment themselves.

“This knowledge construction approach helps students develop new skills and allows them to demonstrate, through the environment they have created, what they have learnt.”

Data sources

Data from a wide range of sources can be used to feed in to the software, including drones, kite based photography and handheld cameras, as well as existing datasets familiar to geographers.

Palmer added: “At the moment we are focusing on understanding the value of the tool in a university undergraduate teaching environment.

“The support from the Education Incubator has been invaluable. It provided initial funding for the first year which helped us get to this stage, and now its continuing support means we hope to be able to make further progress towards taking the tool into the classroom.”

The tool has also been nominated for an international award at the recent 2018 Reimagine Education Conference in San Francisco.

Image from University of Exeter

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