Academics from the University of Salford are helping support students in war-torn Ukraine with the creation of virtual field trips (VFTs) because across the country, the war has made fieldwork impossible.

Ukraine has now been at war with Russia for over a year. Since the conflict began early in 2022 Russia has also targeted Ukraine’s infrastructure and energy production, as well as it’s education system.

The Virtual Field Trips (VFTs) for Ukraine Project is currently helping to bring back some sense of normality to the country’s fractured education system. As part of the initiative academics from Salford are working with colleagues at V. N. Karazin Kharkiv National University (KKNU). As Ukraine’s second city, Kharkiv has seen some of the worst fighting of the war, beyond the immediate front lines, with frequent missile attacks.

Courses for many students have been violently disrupted due to physical damage to infrastructure, and both staff and students being displaced and becoming refugees in other countries.

As a result learning in many universities has been moved online. Because of this, courses such as Geography and Environmental Science, that rely on field-based teaching, are badly impacted and will be for the foreseeable future. This initiative aims to rectify and support this issue by providing virtual fieldwork for the students at undergrad and postgrad level.

Dr Simon Hutchinson, from the University of Salford, and Dr Nataliia Popovych and Kateryna Borysenko from KKNU have teamed up to teach students how to create their own VFTs safely. They have been holding informative and engaging online workshops for the students in Ukraine to give them the skills to create their own virtual field trips using smartphone-level digital tools.

Usually, a staff member would create and then share the VFT, however the initiative is applying a different approach where the students are co-creators. With the help of the academics from the university, students have been perfecting the process of creating these digital visualisation tools, despite the isolating and difficult conditions where power supplies and Internet connections are frequently disrupted across the country.

Simon said: “The use of virtual field trips in teaching exploded during COVID lockdown and they worked very well for many students. Field work is a really important part of the curriculum for these courses and the war makes it impossible. However, even just using a smartphone, you can create content for courses. So we knew it would work. It can be done with existing resources and hopefully it a morale boost for the students. Some of the feedback we have had about the workshops has been very humbling.”

The initiative is helping to enhance the curriculum for those affected by the war in Ukraine and the approach will continue to do so for years to come once the country inevitably begins its reconstruction. VFTs were used as a key resource in learning during the COVID-19 outbreak. A pool of resources from previous years has helped to shape the initiative into the success that it is today. Other universities across Ukraine have signed up to in the initiative, and soon these resources may reach out nationwide.

Nataliia, from KKNU, said: “Supporting our students in such a difficult time and enhancing the intellectual potential of our country is our aim. While soldiers are defending our country from Russian aggression, we are holding our own, educational front.

“We are very grateful for the support provided by the University of Salford and Dr Simon Hutchinson in particular. Our department’s students are really enjoying the opportunity to learn something new and exciting led by British experts. I hope our fruitful cooperation will continue and even increase in the future.”

Student feedback about the initiative has been really positive. ‘Thank you very much for the opportunity to acquire new knowledge and skills!”, wrote one student.

An amazing example of one student’s work of a virtual field trip around Lake Ivor, in the Carpathian Mountains, can be found here.


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