Glendon instructor livestreams field trips to provide experiential education throughout pandemic

A course director at York University’s Glendon Campus is not letting COVID-19 restrictions disrupt experiential learning opportunities for his students. For Charles-Antoine Rouyer, who teaches Communication, Health & Environment to 125 students this fall in a remote format, cancelling the course’s field trips was not an option.

Charles-Antoine Rouyer

Charles-Antoine Rouyer

“We usually do two field trips in the fall in this course, as experiential education is a great addition to achieve some of the learning objectives,” said Rouyer, who has been teaching the fall/winter six-credit course since 2004. “It’s also an opportunity to see and experience what we talk about in the class.”

The field trips, focused on watershed dynamics and urban ecology education, allow students to see science in action and engage with what they are learning, he said.

When the course shifted to a remote format in September, Rouyer considered what alternatives might provide a similar experience to his students. His idea? To do the field trips anyway, and livestream it to his students. But first, he’d have to test it out.

It wasn’t as easy as expected; in fact, Rouyer admits it was “quite a bit of work” to figure out what technology would work best to deliver the experience. He spent a few hours of experimenting, first at home and then on site, and decided to stream via his smart phone with a 1080p camera and feed the video into Zoom. He used his earbuds’ microphone to transmit audio.

The first livestream event took place on Oct. 3 at the City of Toronto Brickworks Park to showcase manufactured nature with ponds to understand how wetlands construction provides natural water filtration and flood protection.

Rouyer surveyed the class to measure interest in participating on site – while ensuring COVID-19 protocols for distancing and social gatherings would be followed – and one student attended in person. Of the other 124 students, 76 logged on to participate.

“It was nice to have one student present for added interactivity and his questions and input benefitted the whole class watching online,” he said.

During the livestream Rouyer ensured students could ask questions and interact in real-time via Zoom. The event was also recorded to allow for viewing by students unable to attend online.

After reviewing the recording, he sought to improve the livestream quality for the next field trip, scheduled for Oct. 24. This time, he would broadcast live from the Glendon Forest along the Don River, to educate students on watersheds and ecological restoration.

A photo of the GoPro set up Charles-Antoine Rouyer used in his second livestreamed field trip

A photo of the GoPro setup Charles-Antoine Rouyer used in his second livestreamed field trip (Image: John Marbella)

For this event, Rouyer upgraded to a GoPro camera and connected it to the internet through his phone’s hotspot to provide a livestream. However, due to bandwidth limitations, the phone could not support both the GoPro livestream and Zoom session. To improve the experience, he asked a student participating online to host the Zoom session, and launched the livestream through a GoPro URL. One of the four students attending this field trip in person stayed on Zoom through her cell phone, and relayed information between the class and Rouyer.

Although there were some glitches in both methods – such as some interruptions to video and audio consistency – Rouyer feels both experiments were successful. And, according to a survey distributed to his class, so do his students.

Asma Zahra, a student who attended the Glendon Forest field trip in person, said she appreciated the time Rouyer took to be creative with experiential learning. Acting as Rouyer’s “ears” for the Zoom session while he was livestreaming on GoPro added depth to the content she had learned in class. She also commended him for being creative and innovative in his delivery of experiential learning.

“He is very passionate about the environment and it shows through his lectures and presentations,” she said. “Professors who take the time to be creative, engage their students and try to get the most out of experiential learning are much appreciated through this time.”

She notes that since taking classes in the summer semester, when learning went remote, she’s enjoyed this class the most.

“This is by far the best class I have taken through the online format since the pandemic,” she said. “It is very important to not only ‘adjust’ to our current situation, but to be more creative and innovative with delivery of education. Professor Rouyer … went out of his way to engage students and implement the experiential learning. Though there will always be issues with technology, he still fought through it to make sure students get the most out of this course through these times. I think that’s commendable.”

Rouyer said he tried to offer students a variety of options to experience the sites, including instructions for a self-guided tour, and site maps provided via eClass, so students could follow along during the livestream events. He surveyed all students who participated in one or both sessions and found that most students preferred the technology used in the second field trip. The feedback overall has been very positive, however.

Aameet Ekram, a first-year student studying political science from abroad, said the livestream field trip idea was “interesting,” and although he had reservations, the experience was better than expected.

“It was a format I could learn off of, and I genuinely did,” said Ekram. “I’d advocate for this type of programming being implemented into different programs. I’m sure it would be real useful for courses which would’ve had field trips in non-COVID conditions.”

Despite studying from overseas in a different time zone, Ekram was able to log on and participate, and gain valuable insights from the experience. “It showed a preview of the environments themselves – which is, really, the aim of the course – and allowed me to see the place in a way I would’ve never gotten to any other way (learning in an online environment).”

Though Ekram says it isn’t comparable to in-person field trips, it’s the next best thing. “I’d call the entire idea genius,” he said. “If anything, the livestreamed field trips actually made me want to go to these places in real life. I think I’ll do that once the entire situation is normalized and I can actually come to Toronto.”

Rouyer has presented his livestream field trip experimentations with faculty members who meet weekly to share e-learning strategies, and hopes his experiences will contribute to a University-wide community of practice about remote on-site livestreaming.

York faculty member Linda Carozza, a course instructor in the Department of Philosophy and an e-learning peer mentor in the Teaching Commons, leads the faculty group that shares experiences in e-learning. She said Rouyer’s account of his livestream teaching method offered a glimpse into the intersection of experiential education, digital pedagogy and educational technology.

“The pandemic may have thrown a wrench in a typically face-to-face course with field trips, but it also pushed colleagues like Charles-Antoine to lead the pack with innovative e-learning methodology,” said Carozza.

She says she hopes he documents his experiences and research in livestreaming in the domain of the scholarship of teaching and learning.

By Ashley Goodfellow Craig, deputy editor, YFile