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The University of Southampton

Creating the 'outdoor classroom'

Published: 14 July 2005

This week pupils from the south of England, armed with the latest handheld gadgets, brought history to life in stories they wrote in the grounds of Chawton House, the Elizabethan manor house that once belonged to Jane Austen’s brother, Edward. Jane lived on the Chawton estate from 1809 to 1817, her most prolific writing period.

A group of Year 5 students from Whiteley Primary School in Hampshire was the first to trial new technology developed by the University of Southampton’s School of Electronics and Computer Science (ECS).

As a result of a hypothetical experience constructed by their teachers, the pupils were guided on the art of storytelling by information which appeared on their PDA (Personal Digital Assistant).

Teachers left instructions which flashed up on the PDAs at various places in the grounds of the house, such as the walled garden or on the main drive up to the house, to record a dialogue between two people arriving at the house for the first time. The pupils could also play audio clips describing parts of the grounds and record all of their own annotations. All of this information could be replayed in the classroom at a later date.

Professor David De Roure of ECS commented: "The main emphasis of this first study has been on using the landscape as a writing aide. This is the first time that scientists at ECS have worked on deploying such advanced technology to improve literacy rather than science. This is an on-going process and we are planning to work with Whiteley School to develop some of these concepts further. We are also working on other projects with Chawton House."

Mrs Pat Bradley, Headteacher from Whiteley Primary School. commented: "This is a good example of using new technology to improve our children’s learning. The ICT tools have allowed adults to help develop the children’s literacy skills and the children have been highly motivated by the approach."

The system was designed by an interdisciplinary team across four universities. Special navigation technology developed by the University of Bristol ‘pinged’ location information to the PDAs, and researchers from the University of Sussex were responsible for designing and analysing the experience. The system incorporated state-of-the-art software from the University of Nottingham and next-generation Web technologies developed in ECS.

The project is part of the Equator Interdisciplinary Research Collaboration supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

Notes for editors

  1. Photographs of the school pupils using the technology in the grounds of Chawton House can be obtained from Joyce Lewis (contacts below).
  2. Chawton House is now the home of Chawton House Library, one of the world’s leading centres for the study of the lives and works of women writing in English before 1830.
  3. The University of Southampton is a leading UK teaching and research institution with a global reputation for leading-edge research and scholarship. The University has around 20,000 students and 5,000 staff. Its annual turnover is in the region of £270 million.
  4. The School of Electronics and Computer Science has been at the forefront of research and technology for over 50 years and continues to define and develop substantial new areas of research that impact on our fast-changing world, including agent technologies, grid and pervasive computing, and the Semantic Web.
  5. The Equator project is a six-year Interdisciplinary Research Collaboration supported by EPSRC that focuses on the integration of physical and digital interaction.
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