Resource Database: Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Title A Student's First Encounter with Geoscience Fieldwork - Making it an Effective Learning Experience
Originator Robin Gill
Department Department of Geology, Royal Holloway, University of London, UK
Tel. +44 (0)1784 44 3605
Fax +44 (0)1784 471780

Much hinges on ensuring that a student's initial introduction to geological fieldwork is a rewarding and formative experience. A structured approach is used at Royal Holloway on a field trip organised for all incoming students 2-3 weeks after their arrival. The student's agenda is spelled out explicitly through the medium of a pre-printed field 'Workbook', in which each student records their data. The learning targets include a range of key field skills: elementary mapping, making and recording basic structural measurements, describing lithologies, sketching and interpreting relationships, plotting data, inferring sequences of events. The workbook ensures clarity in defining tasks, allows students to appreciate their purpose, context and outcome, defines clear assessment objectives, and encourages rapid marking and clear formative feedback.

The benefits of using this workbook approach are that it:

Each student uses a conventional field notebook for observations not specified in the workbook and for writing down any contextual notes provided by the leader, and this can also be discussed with the student's tutor when the marked workbook is returned a few weeks after the trip.

No research has been carried out on the effectiveness of this approach to field teaching compared to a more traditional style, but subjective indications are wholly positive. The level of student engagement in the field is invariably high, and students continue to work hard (inking and colouring field maps, plotting and interpreting imbrication data, etc.) through the nightly evening sessions, to the extent that some even have to be reminded that the bar closes at 11.00pm! Some lecturer colleagues initially argued, when the workbook was trialed, that students should be 'learning to use a real notebook from Day 1', but the workbook has now become accepted as a valid vehicle for the learning of basic field skills early in the student's career that promotes better notebook technique. Educationalists will recognise a parallel with the 'zone of proximal development' during which, to quote Vygotsky, 'what the student can do today with help, he or she can accomplish by themselves tomorrow'.



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