VIRTUAL FIELD TRIP FIRST FOR STUDENTS

Geology students at Heriot-Watt are participating in what is believed to be a first for the University – a fully virtual field trip.

Each year the University takes students for 10 days to the Southern Pyrenean Basin and Ebro Basin in North Spain to study the world-class geological outcrops whilst delivering a unique and memorable learning experience.

This year, however, the impact of Covid-19 meant academic teaching staff had to come up with a new and dynamic way to let students use their skills in a real world environment.

With no way to travel to visit outcrops safely we needed a way to replace the essence of the fieldtrip experience as a virtual trip.

The answer came in the form of software developer, Rock Flow Dynamics (RFD), who stepped forward and granted post-graduate students short-term access to its latest tNavigator software. The state-of-the-art geology designer tool allowed the 24-strong group studying Reservoir Evaluation and Management (REM) from the School of Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure and Society, to model geological structures based on published data and observations they made from 3D visualisations of rock outcrops, all from the comfort of their home computers.  

Letha Binel, who is completing an MSc in Petroleum Engineering, experienced the virtual field trip first-hand. She described the initiative as ‘challenging yet fruitful’ adding: “It’s no lie that it was arduous at first, but with cooperation from all and continuous passion of our lecturers it eventually became a smooth-sailing experience.

“We acquired a new skillset of being able to work in a team remotely in an efficient manner. Now, more than ever, we need to adapt to this new-normal of doing most of the tasks virtually and we need to adapt quick to stand out in the competitive industry. I am glad the lecturers pushed forward with this virtual field trip instead of cancelling it so we can continue to learn despite the difficult situation.”

The field trip is the latest measure taken by the University to continue to deliver an engaging learning and teaching experience in response to the global pandemic.

Dr Daniel Arnold, Associate Professor at Heriot-Watt’s Institute of Geoenergy Engineering, who co-lead the project, said: “Fieldwork, for those who study and love geology, is where all the theory and knowledge comes together for our students.  Field trips are so important that every geoscience department worth its salt runs at least one field trip each year for its students.

“This year it all changed for us. Covid-19 struck, impacting our students in so many ways, including the cancellation of our field trip. With no way to travel to visit outcrops safely we needed a way to replace the essence of the fieldtrip experience as a virtual trip.

“Our new virtual trip worked by creating virtual teams, with students and staff working together remotely.  Each team had access to the wide library of literature on reservoir outcrops at Heriot-Watt’s digital library and by using video conferencing technology we could visit virtual outcrops, to give students a unique learning experience.”