A Case Study for Using Digital Field Data Collection

Authors: Rebecca Brice*, University of Arizona, Peter Brewer, University of Arizona, Christopher Guiterman, Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research
Topics: Biogeography, Field Methods
Keywords: open data kit (ODK), dendrochronology, applications
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: 8222, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In geographic fieldwork, metadata collection is essential. Geographers record observations and field measurements in notebooks, voice recorders, or other forms of paper record. Documentation of field locations is kept in cameras and GPS devices, requiring further handwritten notes or labels referencing each photograph or waypoint. Consequently, collection of comprehensive metadata in geographic fieldwork can lead to carrying and tracking multiple pieces of equipment, time-consuming data recording, and heightened exposure to entry error while transferring field data from the written record to digital storage after fieldwork is completed. Sophisticated metadata tracking software is costly and unavailable to many field researchers; particularly graduate students who operate on small financial margins. A solution to these challenges is offered with a field data collection system that utilizes open source software and inexpensive, rugged and dependable hand-held tablets (Brewer and Guiterman, 2016). This system consolidates written entries and geotagged photographs into customizable, structured data fields for a digital data collection method that is efficient, consistent across field technicians, and less prone to human error. Field data can then be digitally transferred to spreadsheets or databases upon return to the lab. This lightning talk presents a dendrochronology case study testing the use of this field method, and it’s benefits and pitfalls. We show that while new field methods present certain challenges, digital technology enhances effective fieldwork, reduces recording error, streamlines and standardizes processes, and saves time.

Brewer, P. W., & Guiterman, C. H. (2016). A new digital field data collection system for dendrochronology. Dendrochronologia, 38, 131-135.

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