Botany Bay, the making of a virtual field study – Part 1

Botany Bay heads, Cape Banks and Cape Solander, from Bare Island
Botany Bay heads, Cape Banks and Cape Solander, from Bare Island

For many of us teaching geography in the NSW education system, prior to 2010 topics like coastal processes in Botany Bay were treated largely as pen, paper and PowerPoint exercises supported by what little effective contemporary material could be gleaned from textbooks.  One colleague in particular created some inspired graphical and map work on whiteboards. Seeing my colleague’s whiteboard work I photographed some of it with my iPhone and added a little detail of my own.  Along with a some additional application of Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator I was able to produce a first generation digital treatment of Botany Bay and its coastal processes. This left me reasonably satisfied, yet it still lacked immediacy and detail and required little active engagement from students.

In June 2011 I was asked to present some ideas for using DER Laptops and their software at the Sydney Region ICT Coordinators meeting.


While this presentation has much in it that has no direct application to this post, what I did try to show, in closing, was that digital tools permitted simple and economic development of pedagogical strategies characterised by richness, accuracy and contemporaneity.  It was apparent that with a little effort one could go from whiteboard like this.


to digital video like this:

Similarly one could easily gather materials from the web that permitted the development of sound secondary data to inform the teaching and learning process.

This satellite image of Botany Bay has some interesting features that are quite easy to identify on a large projection.

wave refraction

Then it’s simply a matter of placing this image in Adobe Illustrator and tracing the wave refraction and reflection patterns in the Bay.


Such skills are comparatively easy to acquire and have cross curriculum applicability.  Unfortunately there is very limited time available to teach geography and limited opportunities for pursuing interdisciplinary skills development. Fortunately as geographers we had one ‘ace up our sleeves’, field work, indeed the research cycle, is a mandatory component of the Stage 5 course.

The research cycle followed in the Stage 5 Geography course
The research cycle followed in the Stage 5 Geography course

Extending Digital Strategies
In August of that year Cherryl Ellis, a colleagues from Sydney Secondary College Leichhardt, and I, planned to take things a stage further by developing a field study activity that would be scaffolded by a strong project based digital foundation and permit rapid infield data collection, supported by augmented reality. It was a grand idea and in the winter of that year we began shooting photos and video of the coastal processes operating in Botany Bay.

Port Botany has become Sydney’s major port and there have been significant changes in the biophysical environment of the Bay and it’s surrounding catchments, so going out on these shoots gave us a great deal of satisfaction as geographers. We were collecting primary materials, some of which I could already begin to compare with materials I’d gathered in pursuing my own photographic interests.

Applying for a grant
Our next step was to apply for a regional Action Research grant to develop and resource the field study. All was running smoothly until we costed the bus transport for the field study. Now, working as we do in a government school with a wide cross-section of clients, it was apparent that our particular socio-economic mix would mean that not all students could afford to go on the field study.  This presented insurmountable equity issues.  There was only one solution, a virtual field study.

Continue reading Part 2

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