News - May 14, 2020

Column: Digital field trips

Vincent Oostvogels

I reckon WUR is seen as the real excursion university in the Netherlands. Students are always out and about somewhere, especially during period
6. In the five years since I first started taking courses here, no period 6 has gone by without a field trip.

That’s all very different now that face-to-face education is out of the question. For fieldwork, like everything else, smart alternatives are being thought up and no doubt a lot of material is being digitalized. They say that’s one of the good things about this crisis. That the long-expected digital revolution is finally getting off the ground. ‘We’ll soon start plucking the fruits of that.’

I just hope that the digitalization of fieldwork doesn’t put an end to the real thing. Field trips are often costly to organize, and if it turns out that ‘you can do it perfectly well digitally’, that might be used as an argument against them. Especially once the university starts to feel the financial after-effects of this crisis.

Gathering oysters on the sandbanks and eating them with the teachers

The nicest moments during my five years of courses happened during field trips. Weeks spent looking for plants in the Pyrenees and eating nothing but fish soup with baguettes and aioli (BIS-21306). Trying to do grazing experiments with a cow with a mind of her own who kept jumping over the electric fence, right into the middle of another group’s grazing experiment (REG-30306). Gathering oysters on the sandbanks of the Wadden Sea during a break from fieldwork, and eating them that evening with the teachers (AEW-23306). Things like that. And those are things you can’t digitalize. So secretly, I hope the digital alternatives to the field trips will be a bit disappointing. So that the digital revolution will pass fieldwork by and it will soon be back in its old form.

Vincent Oostvogels (24) is exploring the delicate interface between nature management and food production through his two Master’s programmes, Forest and Nature Conservation and Animal Sciences.