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A group of female students with clipboards are walking down a high street taking notes of what they can see for their Geography fieldwork

"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 that correlate with curriculum requirements as well as being fun and engaging?

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. Effective fieldwork will also have clear and established learning aims and objectives, and will provide meaningful outcomes which students are then able to link directly to their classroom-based learning.

Effective fieldwork:

  • Is seamless to what is going on IN the classroom

  • Has appropriate levels of challenge

  • Has appropriate methods of assessment

  • Is not only safe and secure but inclusive in design

  • Builds on and allows students to learn new soft skills

An issues-based approach to fieldwork

Issues based fieldwork allows students to focus their research on a geographical change that is affecting their field site. These changes are likely to affect the students themselves if they live near the field site. Equally, issues based fieldwork gives the opportunity for students to develop empathy for other people and other places as they view the field site as outsiders.

Issues based fieldwork commonly follows a structure where:

  • Students identify an issue of relevance.

  • Students investigate the impact the issue has on people and landscapes, or the impact it may have in the future. Quantitative and qualitative data is collected through primary and secondary means to provide evidence of these impacts.

  • Students analyse the data appropriately and, through this analysis, draws conclusions about the extent of an impact, or how it may affect different people and different landscapes differently.

It might be suitable for students to then formulate a plan of action to address the issue, such as how negative impacts and effects might be avoided, or how positive impacts and effects might be enhanced.

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. It can be good to involve students in the planning of the activities, and end with a defined outcome. 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 your senior management team.

The value of fieldwork

Two articles are available in the downloads box:

The value of fieldwork: 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: Victoria Cook, Department of Geography, University of Leeds
Victoria Cook was a postgraduate student at the University of Leeds who conducted doctoral research into fieldwork provision in inner city schools. In this article she shares some findings and puts forward some strong arguments for the value of fieldwork. The reference list for this article is also available to download.

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 

The place of fieldwork in Geography and Science qualifications - 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.  

Ofsted says "The experience of fieldwork draws together pupils’ locational knowledge and that of human and physical processes. It should be practised regularly". Read more about fieldwork in schools in their review of the factors that influence the quality of geography education in schools.

The Council for Learning Outside the Classroom provides and huge amount of support and guidance around creating meaningful and well-led fieldwork experiences

Geography Directions contains blog articles and links to academic research focussing on fieldwork, including inclusive fieldwork

Accessible and inclusive fieldwork in HE - a selection of research articles and materials

Geography comes alive through fieldwork by Susan Caldis, GTA NSW President

The place of fieldwork in geography education by Lauren Hammond 

Higher Education resources and research for fieldwork from the RGS-IBG


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The role and value of fieldwork


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The role and value of fieldwork reference list


11 KB

The Value of Fieldwork


29 KB

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Fieldwork and GIS Subject Knowledge Programme

View our DfE funded subject knowledge programme module which looks at fieldwork and GIS - aimed specifically at trainee teachers and early career teachers