Using spatial technologies outside the classroom


Fieldwork is first-hand experience of real-life situations that are covered in the classroom.

Fieldwork gives students the chance to:

  • develop their knowledge through observing, measuring, recording and representing real world information
  • explore natural and human processes that affect our world
  • use a range of subject specific tools to assist in collecting and interpreting information and making decisions
  • locate, select organise and communicate information
  • explore different perspectives related to practical issues.

The Royal Geographical Society (UK) has some excellent resources on:

Spatial technologies

The Australian Curriculum explains spatial technologies as: "any software or hardware that interacts with real-world locations. A use of spatial technologies forms the basis of many geographers' work practice … to visualise, manipulate, analyse, display and record spatial data."

Geographic information systems (GIS)

Geographic information systems (GIS) allow users to view data that is linked to the earth in a mapping application. This data can be queried and searched to find particular entries. For example, a person may search through planning data to find a particular block of land for development, using specific conditions.

The real power of a GIS comes when users place multiple layers of data together for analysis. For example, a local council could place a layer showing all residential property on top of a layer showing a predicted 1 in 10 year flood. This would show the council which properties would require support to mitigate against the negative impacts of the flood. Learn more about the Queensland Flood Mapping Program.

Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS)

The Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) is a network of satellites that circles the earth, beaming information on their location down to our planet. Sometimes referred to as Global Positioning System (GPS), GPS is the United States subset of GNSS satellites. Other satellite networks include: Europe-Galileo network, Russia-GLONASS, China-BeiDou, Japan-QZSS, India-IRNSS network. All of these networks, including GPS, come together to make GNSS.

Anyone on the ground with a receiver, such as a location enabled smartphone or in-car navigation unit, can use all publicly accessible parts of the GNSS networks to determine the receiver's location. Previously, the GPS network was the only network operating but now users can access many more satellites,  significantly improving performance in places where a GPS only receiver may not receive enough satellite coverage, (e.g. under a dense canopy or in some urban areas). The system allows the user's receiver to show where they are, usually overlayed on a map, to record their location using a placemark or to record a track of where they have been. This information can be used in many applications, either in real time or recorded for later analysis.

Remote sensing

Remote sensing, which refers to the gathering of data about the earth without actually being in contact with the earth, includes aerial photos and satellite imagery, now included in many mapping applications and tools. Remotely sensed data about a place can provide information including weather and oceanographic information, land use, vegetation types, fuel level and moisture loads in a location.

Spatial technologies in the field

Locational capture

There are many practical examples of GNSS in our daily lives. From navigating using in-car GPS to the wide variety of location-based mobile apps like public transport, fitness or ride-sharing apps.

It is easy to use spatial technologies to capture your locational information. Smartphone users may be familiar with the Google Maps app. Tapping and holding your finger on the screen will place a placemark on the map at that point. This placemark can be shared via email. The email contains a link that opens the latitude and longitude of your shared location. This makes the Google Maps app a simple GPS tool to capture, use and share your locational data.

You can also invest in specific mobile applications that come with many more GNSS/GPS compatible features, such as the ability to save a track or create a route. Tracks are essentially a breadcrumb trail of where you have been. These files typically contain information on speed, distance and time. Routes are a series of points that are connected and are useful for directing users to specific locations in an order.

Data collection

Most fieldwork requires the collection of data of some sort. This includes visual data (e.g. a field sketch) or data that can be recorded (e.g. survey results or water quality readings).

Traditionally data has been collected using pencil and paper. Field sketches were sketched by hand. Quantitative and qualitative data was written down on paper. Now we have tools that allow us to record data digitally while in the field, which can eliminate 1 step in the process.

There are a range of cloud based storage options that also allow you to format your data in a spreadsheet or in a word processing document. Images and videos can also be easily stored and shared using cloud based tools. If you have a mobile device or tablet that is connected to the internet, you can collect data while in the field and it will be stored online automatically.

You can search the internet for examples of cloud based storage. Read more about cloud storage options for teachers and students. Ensure you are familiar with your jurisdiction's rules around access to cloud storage services.


Geocaching is a digital treasure hunt where users can search for and find physical containers that have been hidden throughout the world. Users can choose a cache to find and then use their GNSS/GPS enabled mobile device or a GNSS/GPS receiver.  To play the game, users can use a mobile app or download the location of their chosen geocache to their GNSS/GPS receiver before setting out to find the cache. Most GNSS/GPS receivers have accuracy of about +/- 5m, so the user will have to use the description and clues provided to find the cache once they are close.

QR codes

QR codes can be used as tools for student fieldwork if the students have access to smartphone technology. QR codes point the user to either text, a location, web resource or a file on their device. You can link to text-based information, images, videos or audio. Students can scan a QR code to hear instructions while they are out in the field. Or students can scan a QR code to view a video that highlights a particular feature of their fieldwork.

Teachers can adapt this concept for student fieldwork. Examples include:

  • a class completing a digital treasure hunt around the school
  • students following a puzzle at field sites on a field trip, where each answer moves them on to their next location.

Putting it together

Once you have collected your field data and your location data, you are ready to represent your information spatially. There are a wide range of software tools that can be used to represent this information. Google My Maps provides a balance between powerful mapping features and a simple user interface. You can set your data up in a Google Drive table or a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet and import that table into Google My Maps to spatially display your information.  There are many online examples that show you how to use the tools to import your information and represent your data including water quality data.

Queensland educators can use the Queensland Spatial educators' toolkit to find suitable spatial technologies for their year level and topic of study.