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Multi-Purpose Virtual Field Trip Embraces the Spirit of Salford University

Kyla Ball

In this case study we look at an inspiring example of collaboration between a university and its local community. The university has created a multi-purpose interactive resource with ThingLink that can be used in a number of ways by a wide range of audiences. 

Virtual Field Trips at Salford

Virtual Peel Park was created in collaboration with Jessica Britch in the Salford Ranger Team and the University of Salford Sustainability Office, as well as Salford students, staff and local residents. The project lead was Simon Hutchinson, Associate Professor (Reader) in Environmental Science at the University of Salford.

Initially Simon had created virtual field trips (VFTs) for students in response to COVID restrictions, but he now uses them alongside in-person fieldwork to support course learning objectives and to make fieldwork more inclusive and accessible. After these initial projects, Simon then developed the concept of student co-creation of VFTs – of which Peel Park is one example. 

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To encourage student involvement, the university established an AQA Level 1 qualification in Environmental Visualisation, a formal qualification with a practical and IT dimension. By collaborating on the project and contributing a resource created in ThingLink, a student gains certification. This award is believed to be the first of its kind.

VPP provides virtual access to this historic park and incorporates 360-degree images, drone videos, as well as images taken by members of the creation team on their own smartphones or other mobile devices. Visitors to the virtual park can enjoy an interactive and self-guided overview of the park’s features, its history and events, and it also highlights the sustainable public transport options available for visitors – including buses, trains and accessible parking.  The virtual park is available to explore on the Salford City Council website.

Turning virtual engagement into real-life involvement

By choosing any tag in any scene, virtual visitors can read more information, move to another area or feature in the park, or visit an external link. There are also links to follow for those who would like to get involved in volunteering at the park in various ways. 

Salford’s mayor and city councillors attended the launch of VPP at the university which was designed to promote engagement with local people. Visitors were able to move through the virtual park visit on a wall-sized interactive screen. 

Launch of Virtual Peel Park Launch at University of Salford in collaboration with Salford City Council

“This innovative project sees Peel Park through new technology so people can experience it in a totally different way. People can learn all about the cultural heritage and biodiversity and it makes the park much more accessible and welcoming for people who might not be able to get there easily.”

Salford City Mayor Paul Dennett

Virtual Peel Park has had over a thousand visitors since the launch and was nominated in the 2023 Green Gown Awards’ Jisc-Sponsored Digital Futures Category. 

Increasing sustainability and accessibility with a virtual park tour

Interactive virtual field trips or virtual tours like these can fulfill a number of different functions for different user groups simultaneously. They can provide historical, geographical or even geological information for students, whilst also providing a very useful overview for any visitor. They are also a unique way to provide a wide range of access, travel or layout information planning a visit.  

Peel Park is currently an under-used resource, partly due to its location and topography – hidden below line of sight from the adjected main road (A6) on a lower lying floodplain. Part of the vision behind VPP  was therefore to make Peel Park both more visible and accessible to all. By making use of VPP, families and/or those with mobility issues can visit virtually and then feel more confident about a real-life visit.

“The project makes the park more visible via its online presence, promoting the use of a local environment, which can be reached in a more sustainable way, and reduces travel to sites further afield.”

Simon Hutchinson, Associate Professor (Reader) in Environmental Science at the University of Salford

Multi-functional virtual tours designed for a range of users

Virtual Peel Park is a powerful example of environmental and digital sustainability working together. The project is now being used as the template for another virtual park, Tegg’s Nose Country Park, which lies on the edge of the Peak District National Park. This virtual park is being co-created by students and Park Rangers. 

The vision for this new virtual park is that it will be used to promote more ‘appropriate’ use of the site, and to link in the different elements of the park which are currently under-used. In addition it’s hoped that the virtual park will promote use of the park as an educational resource by local schools. Creating a virtual version also aims to make the site more appealing and accessible for school trips, as well as provide an interactive online alternative, should the weather or other events cause access issues.

Summary of benefits and results

Students and schools

  • Supports and supplements in-person fieldwork
  • Improves inclusivity and accessibility of field trips
  • Develops new digital and practical skills and provides certification
  • Provides an educational resource and accessible alternative to school trips

All visitors

  • Increases park visibility online
  • Highlights natural and cultural heritage of park
  • Provides overview of facilities to encourage and help plan visits
  • Promotes sustainable transport links and reduces visits to locations further afield
  • Promotes volunteer opportunities in the park

If you would like to learn more about the creation of VPP or have specific questions about this project, please contact Simon Hutchinson at S.M.Hutchinson@salford.ac.uk.

Multi-modal virtual field trips

This example demonstrates how ThingLink allows the creator to link an introductory 2d map with other types of base media content such as 360 images. The map provides a “home” to which the visitor can return for ease of navigation and orientation.

Because of the variety of content types available to use in ThingLink tags, creators can also choose the most appropriate media for the type of information they need to share. That may be images, videos, text, links, 3D images – or a combination of all of these.

ThingLink provides easy collaboration with others for joint projects such as this. Accessibility tools such as the built in Immersive Reader and a very straightforward Translation Tool allow creators to widen the reach of their virtual field trip by making it more inclusive.

Peel Park: A history of learning opportunities for everyone

Peel Park and the university have developed alongside each other over almost two centuries, and the park is now a cornerstone of the university’s heritage. Peel Park opened in 1846 and was Britain’s first public park to be funded completely by public subscriptions. In 1850, the Royal Museum and Library in the park was the country’s first free public lending library with reading rooms and an art gallery. 

In 1896, the Royal Technical Institute was opened at Peel Park. It offered subjects designed to create a skilled workforce for local industries, such as engineering, applied physics, mathematics, chemistry, building, dyeing, spinning and weaving, and art. By 1967 it had developed into the University of Salford. Today its academic and residential buildings surround Peel Park on three sides. 

Recent campus developments have incorporated access routes through the park, as well as a tree trail and sculpture trail, all to encourage students, visitors and local residents to use and enjoy the park. Peel Park is also regularly used as an outdoor classroom, providing opportunities for art and filmmaking, surveying and mapping, technology and wildlife monitoring. As well as university departments and individual students, it’s also used regularly by local schools and adult study groups.

Viewed against this historical backdrop, its clear that Virtual Peel Park is just the latest in a long tradition of mutual collaboration and support between the people of Salford and its university, to create inclusive spaces and resources that help build a strong and sustainable community. 

More virtual field trip ideas and case studies

Virtual field trips can be created for all types of audiences from primary and high school learners, college and university students, through to virtual visitors to scientific, cultural and historical sites. ThingLink allows you to create a virtual learning experience either in place of or in advance of a real world visit.

Here are some of our favourite examples!

Coastal virtual field trip from Southampton University prepares fresher students for hands-on learning activities

Award-winning virtual field trips from Queens University Belfast created for online student learning during the pandemic

And now thanks to ThingLink’s Pano to 360, you don’t even need a 360 camera to create immersive photospheres for your field trip. Read all about our free and easy to use tool here.

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