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Virtual fieldwork

Sheffield Street view

Using Google Maps and Street View

We set up a blog using WordPress (a free and easy to use blogging platform) for two separate areas of Sheffield. We then created project pages in Google Maps.

The project page in Google Maps enabled us to do the following:

  • Upload and georeference photographs
  • Upload and georeference the planner’s podcasts
  • Upload and reference video clips
  • Add shapefiles showing student tracks

View the webpages:

Creating a virtual fieldwork environment

We chose to create the virtual fieldwork environments using Google Maps to enable students to explore the areas online prior to a real visit.

One major value of using Google Street View was that it enabled the students to get a real feel for the area and ‘walk’ through it, making use of the 360° imagery.

We also added more recent images which were georeferenced and located on the map. In order to be able to do this all the materials were first uploaded to website where they could be retrieved and then added to Google Maps.

Students were able to open the recent georeferenced photographs and compare them against the older images on Street View to explore change, decay and regeneration. The blog allowed students to discuss their ideas about the benefits and issues arising from regeneration and change.

Sheffield planners

We decided that the students needed to be able to listen to planners talking about planning issues using specific terminology in order to increase their own vocabulary.

We arranged for the planners to record a series of podcasts using very simple technology. These were uploaded, georeferenced and added to the project website. Students were then able to listen to the planners describing and explaining change while looking at either the 360° images or the more recent images.

The planning team also provided historical images in a digital format and excellent professionally made video extracts which we also uploaded to the site.


There are a number of ways in which this virtual digital landscape and images can be used.

The students were able to take a virtual walk through Sheffield exploring change by listening to the planners’ podcasts and comparing Google Street View images with newer georeferenced images that the community geographer took.

In one exercise students were asked to examine four images of the local area The task was to identify the odd one out.

Odd one out

Thanks to Doug Newton and Dave Milner for permission to use these photographs.

We were looking for students to identify the pub in the bottom right hand corner on the image as the correct answer as all the other images show buildings that have been demolished since the Google camera car passed.

Various answers were given and the activity led to some interesting discussion.

The students were able to confirm the differences between the old and new cityscape by opening the more recent georeferenced photographs as discussed above.

This exercise demonstrated how much change had occurred in an area where the students has not initially noticed any change.

The city planners are aiming to change the image and coherence of this area of Sheffield and were keen to understand the students’ impressions of the changes and their thoughts for the future.

Visiting the virtual fieldwork locations

Following their initial virtual investigations the students then were taken to these areas of Sheffield to gain a greater awareness and understanding.

Some students were issued with tracking devices (some used a mobile phone app) to record their journeys and provide a way of recording the route of their field visit.

Students were asked to think about possible planning changes and talk to local people about benefits, impacts and concerns.

Using the trackers they were able to georeference any images that they felt represented their findings. They were asked to take a selection of photos including:

  • A view for a geographer
  • A ‘wow’ photograph
  • A picture that captures human involvement
  • A picture that shows nature
  • A picture that tells a story
  • A picture that a child would take
  • A picture that might make someone cry
  • A picture which best represents this place for you
  • Unusual, funny etc. – you decide…

Using iPads and mobile wifi, the students were able to view the project websites and listen to the planner talking about proposed changes while looking at the places being described.

Presenting the findings

Students were asked to produce a PowerPoint presentation of no more than four slides showing recent and future planning proposals including benefits, impacts and concerns.

The audience they worked towards was a local community group. Students were asked to use photos, screen grabs, websites and the planning podcasts to help them.

In order to produce the PowerPoint the students needed to complete the following activities:

  • Click on the markers denoting the planners’ podcasts about planning and change
  • Click on the markers denoting recent photographs and compare with images on Google Street View to identify recent changes
  • Save any appropriate photos to use in your presentation
  • Check the internet for extra information

Preparation for teachers

Students with iPad

If you’re planning to carry out a similar fieldwork exercise with your students, here are some things to bear in mind:

Choosing the study area

First of all you need to decide how much freedom the students will be given to choose their study area. This largely depends on you and your desired outcomes from the project.

Creating and storing images and sound files

Some images, sound files etc. need to be taken before the project begins. Others can be added later by you or your students depending on the project purposes. All files need to be uploaded to the web for storage and access. For this project we used a government sponsored site to host files, but there are a number of free services available including Flickr for images or Dropbox and Mediafire for other files.

Experience in using and creating project pages in Google Maps is essential as all images and sound files need adding and georeferencing.

Technology and equipment

For the Making My Place in the World project we were able to purchase iPads and recording equipment for the students to use, but we realise that this won’t be possible for all schools. Smartphones are an excellent option as most tools used in the fieldwork exercises (camera, GPS, tracking devices etc.) come as standard or by installing free apps.

In school you’ll need access to computers that are connected to the internet to enable the students to work individually or in pairs.

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