"Fieldwork is most effective when it is deliberately structured to be engaging and meaningful" Nundy, 1999
Many of our students enjoy learning outside of the classroom, but how do we ensure that our geography fieldtrips constitute effective learning episodes as well as being fun and engaging?
We will give you ideas for structuring your fieldwork activities to make most of the fantastic opportunity that fieldwork provides for teaching and learning. Have you thought about developing a fieldwork “mystery”, or encouraging your students to take action in the local area?
Many of our resources are written by teachers for teachers: fieldwork activities that really work with case study evidence to prove it.
What makes effective fieldwork?
There are many different approaches to the development of fieldwork activities, and the degree to which they contribute to a student’s geographical learning will depend on a range of factors, some pedagogical, others related to the personal learning preferences of the student.
However, like other educational experiences, a successful and enjoyable fieldwork activity is often one that involves the students in identifying issues, making decisions and taking responsibility for their learning.
An issues-based approach
One approach to developing a fieldwork activity is through focusing on a particular issue. Used in conjunction with traditional, quantitative techniques, this approach can add value and relevance to fieldwork at all Key Stages.
Issues based fieldwork
The approach to structuring a local fieldwork episode is threefold:
Qualitative. Identify a local issue of relevance to the students – through, for example, emotional mapping
Quantitative. Determine a quantitative approach to data collection in order to investigate the issue, using primary and secondary data sources
Action. Agree on a way forward- how can we make a difference to our local area through addressing this issue?
An issue is identified, preferably an issue of relevance to the students. This could be something that affects the students in their local area or the school grounds. The issue could even be identified by the students themselves through qualitative techniques such as emotional mapping
Example: students develop a personalised map of positive and negative aspects of their school grounds and consider how it might be improved. The map could have a particular theme, for example accessibility, environmental quality or personal safety.
Once the issue has been identified, quantitative fieldwork techniques can be used to collect primary and secondary data to investigate, or measure the issue
Example: students collect data to support the findings shown on their map. For the personal safety example, they may record the position of CCTV cameras, record lighting levels, take photos of black spots and question teachers and students about their experiences.
Finally, the students can use their research to decide on a plan of action to address the issue
Example: students use Windows Movie Maker or Google Earth to present their findings, or take the senior management team or governors on a tour of the key sites to explain their findings.
Embedding fieldwork experiences
Fieldwork is more than just activities. Try to ensure that from planning to follow-up, your fieldwork is embedded in your programme of study or learning module. The example given above involves students in the planning of the activities, and ends with a defined outcome – the presentation or tour. An embedded fieldwork experience allows students the time to reflect on their findings, and ties their geographical learning in to wider curriculum initiatives such as citizenship and education for sustainable development. Fieldwork is an excellent opportunity to showcase the wider relevance of geography – both to students and to the senior management team.
Two articles which highlight the value of fieldwork
The Value of Fieldwork (PDF)
Justin Dillon, Senior Lecturer in Science and Environmental Education, King's College London
Justin Dillon presents a summary of academic research findings into the value of fieldwork for both students and teachers. The benefits of fieldwork include both academic and personal and social development, as well as encouraging respect for the environment.
The role and value of fieldwork (PDF)
Victoria Cook, Department of Geography, University of Leeds
Victoria Cook is a postgraduate student at the University of Leeds who is currently conducting doctoral research into fieldwork provision in inner city schools. In this article she shares some preliminary findings and puts forward some strong arguments for the value of fieldwork. The reference list (PDF) for this article is abailable to download.
Making the case for fieldwork with your Senior Management Team (SMT)
Paul Spencer Ellis, Headteacher at the Royal Alexandra and Albert School in Reigate, tells us why he thinks fieldwork is such an important part of his students' education. Watch the video yourself for ideas, or why not email the link to your SMT.
CPD module for use in department inset sessions: Presenting the importance of fieldwork to your Senior Management
Authors: Lawrence Collins CGeog and Tim Bayliss CGeog, Lincoln Minster School
Research into fieldwork
Learning Away – A report on the national state of residential experience provided by primary and secondary schools. Commissioned by Learning Away as part of the Brilliant Residential Campaign
Fieldwork - This 2014 report commissioned by the FSC and produced by the Institute of Education/UCL examines the role of fieldwork with geography and sciences qualifications.