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Challenges in surveying education and some technology-based solutions

Jun 2020 | No Comment

The surveying industry requires the academia to more focus on the development of students’ practical skills parallel to learning theoretical principles

Ahmed El-Mowafy

Ph.D. Group Lead: Satellite Positioning and Navigation, Director of Graduate Research School of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Curtin University, Australia

Education in surveying covers a broad range of fundamental topics in mathematics, physics, engineering and law, combining theoretical concepts with practical experience [1]. With the rapid changes taking place in technology and industry, surveying educators are facing many challenges, for instance, the need to satisfy industry requirements and the profession, more engage students in their learning, and increase student satisfaction, which would lead to improving their retention.

The surveying industry requires the academia to more focus on the development of students’ practical skills parallel to learning theoretical principles. In specific, to improve generic skills associated with problemsolving with the ability to solve complex problems, critical thinking (e.g. design practical operation so to ensure an optimal outcome), perception of professional worth, and the ability to rapidly integrate new technologies into current surveying practice. Communication skills are also necessary which are developed through the design of tasks that require teamwork as well as the analysis and presentation of results. In order for students to efficiently obtain these needed skills, the lecturers and tutors have to implement innovative teaching approaches. Key actions are updating course content, implementation of advanced pedagogy and use of cutting-edge technology. These address completeness and appropriateness of the content, updating course structure to follow changes in technology (e.g. integration of multi-sensors), assessment methods (e.g. classroom versus authentic learning), development of skills, and competitiveness with other courses and/ or universities (e.g. unique elements). Blended learning methods that couple learning theoretical principles with developing technical skills can assist here. Blended learning includes flip teaching, collaborative learning, e-learning, and peer-assessment [2].


E-learning can help in improving student engagement as learning is becoming ever more focussed around the use of computers and modern communication methods. For example, with COVID-19 restrictions, the importance of online e-learning increases, and became the main means for education during this period, which enables students to learn anywhere, anytime and with various devices [3]. Central to e-learning approaches are learning management systems (LMS), such as Blackboard and Edmodo, providing a virtual platform for students to access teaching resources (e.g. course notes, lecture recordings, e-assessments) and interact with peers and other students, web-based flexible learning environments, and media to encourage collaborative learning among students.

Simulation-based e-learning

Simulation-based e-learning (SIMBEL) [4] can also help students to prepare for specific work routines without the need for face-to-face instructions. It provides great potential to develop practical skills in a virtual environment. SIMBEL provides the opportunity for students to engage, experiment and reflect practise skills both before and after the field exercise, thus saving part of the high cost of actual training. As an example, an online interactive levelling virtual simulation tool was developed in Curtin University, Australia. The tool was designed to allow students to practice data entry, fieldwork calculations and checking. Furthermore, students use it to practice self-assessment. The feedback in SEMBEL is immediate as it is applied within each task itself. The response from students is that they found this virtual tool useful in developing their understanding and ability to carry out fieldwork.

Video technology

Video technology can be used as an educational tool for the development and documentation of practical skills [5]. By providing authentic-like recordings for demonstration of typical practical procedures, instructors do not need to spend significant proportions of their time explaining routine procedures but can focus more on specific problems. Besides, students can follow the video instructions at their own time and pace. Video recording of students’ practical performance can be a powerful tool by allowing selfanalysis and reflective practice.


One efficient way of improving students’ experience, which is limited to conclusions derived from their own work, is by involving them in peer assessment of other group’s work [6]. Peer-assessment is a useful tool for formative assessment. By placing themselves as assessors, students better address the learning objectives of the fieldwork in their work. At Curtin, we tested peer-assessment for two units over two years [7]. To prepare students for the peer-assessment, tutors explained the purpose of peer assessment and its value. The validity of peer-assessment was measured by comparing students’ marks with those given by tutors. Significant differences that were found in assessing any task indicated to the tutors that more explanation is needed in the relevant task either in its description or its assessment criteria. Peer assessment can also help students in improving their approaches to problem-solving by learning from mistakes and innovations of others, provision of constructive criticism to peers, follow key learning objectives and appreciate the importance of coming to the final correct solution.

Student-centred Learning

Methods such as flip teaching that replaces the traditional face-to-face classroom lectures have a proven benefit. It is a form of active and collaborative learning. Instead of traditional passive teaching in the classroom, teachers can focus more on specific questions, case studies and/or problems that promote or reinforce the targeted subjects’ outcomes. However, flip teaching is a challenging approach as it requires students to read and prepare for the class beforehand and when the inclass attendance is not compulsory, there is a risk of lower turnover. Collaborative learning practised in surveying education is an important skill in the 21st century and directly addresses some of the above generic skills. Today this process is becoming more computer-assisted and with the use of social media, gaining from its popularity among students. These allow collaboration to take place without any face-to-face contact, fitting the more mobile nature of today’s students.

Lecturers are consistently required to define challenging surveying exercises that help students to develop both their practical surveying skills and generic skills. They also need to provide professional guidance during exercises concerning the use of surveying instruments and surveying methods so as to successfully complete the exercise and present results in a professional format suitable for potential clients.

This can be further supported by simulating exercises that are designed to replicate a particular task. Most important, tutors need to provide constructive and timely feedback to students that address the strengths and weakness of their critical thinking and demonstrated skills. This would encourage students to address areas of weakness and allow them to take corrective action to improve future work.

Last but not least, one challenge for lecturers and tutors is to show influential enthusiasm during the lecture and in their working with students. This enthusiasm is contagious and will help students to love their program and progress, leading to improving their retention. This can also improve when lecturers and tutors know what students like. Students need encouragement and constructive feedback. They appear to appreciate authentic or work-integrated learning, where inclusion of well-designed demonstrations and practical work largely contributed to high student satisfaction.


1. Greenfeld, J. & Potts, L. (2008). Surveying body of knowledge – preparing professional surveyors for the 21st century. Surveying and Land Information Science, 68(3), 133-143.

2. El-Mowafy A., Kuhn M., and T. Snow (2013). Blended Learning in Higher Education, Facing Current and Future Challenges in Surveying Education. Issues in Educational Research, 23(2), 132-150.

3. Herrington, A., Schrape, J. & Singh, K. (2012). Engaging students with learning technologies, eScholar Program, Curtin University, Perth, Australia.

4. Kindley, R. (2002). The power of simulation-based e-learning (SIMBEL). The eLearning Developers’ Journal, 12 September.

5. Frehner, E., Tulloch, A. & Glaister, K. (2012). “Mirror, mirror on the wall”: The power of video feedback to enable students to prepare for clinical practice. In A. Herrington, J. Schrape & K. Singh (Eds.), Engaging students with learning technologies. Curtin University.

6. Falchikov, N. (2007). The place of peers in learning and assessment. In D. Boud & N. Falchikov (Eds.), Rethinking assessment in higher education: Learning for the longer term (pp. 128- 143). London: Routledge.

7. El-Mowafy, A. (2014). Using Peer Assessment of Fieldwork to Enhance Students’ Practical Training, Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education. 39(2), 223-241.

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