The ultimate aim of field courses should be to enable students to work autonomously in the field. Student- and problem-centered approaches to learning in the field afford students much autonomy, but unlike in the more traditional show-and-tell approach, independent projects have so far required that students spend a significant amount of time working in the field without access to supervision. Unless students are competent enough to experience proficiency and a feeling of controlling the quality of their own work, such autonomy is detrimental to student motivation.
We developed a knowledge-based tutoring system, the Utrecht Companion to the Earth, that allows an integrated asynchronous online supervision of students’ field activities. In other words, the student’s smartphone or tablet becomes their just-in-time field instructor. The system allows us to make available learning materials in different formats, such as infographics, checklists, quizzes, or knowledge clips. These materials are presented on a cartographic background that can be toggled between a topographic and geological map.
The intended outcome of adopting our system in field courses is a richer learning environment in which students learn more, achieve higher-order learning outcomes, and experience feelings of proficiency by having a more productive interaction with earth structures and materials. The learning materials meet the immediate need of a student exactly when it arises allowing them to acquire knowledge and skills. Face-to-face time in the field with an instructor can then be used to achieve higher-order learning outcomes, focusing not on acquiring knowledge, but on gaining insight and understanding.