Providing Learning Support for Blind or Visually Impaired Students Undertaking Fieldwork and Related Activities

How to Prepare Yourself and Your Colleagues

Increasing awareness — staff development

Why raise awareness?

In a recent survey of over 1000 blind and partially sighted young people, it was found that teachers needed to be made far more aware of the needs of visually impaired students through visual awareness training (Sortit, 2000).

If academics are to respond effectively to the needs of the visually impaired student, they will need to invest time in relevant staff development. All members of the fieldwork team should be involved in awareness raising activities, preferably organised well in advance of the fieldwork, so that new lines of thinking could find their way into detailed fieldwork planning. The department and institution will play a significant part in supporting these activities. (See the Support Network document for details.)

Geography staff involved in fieldwork will probably already have attended a First Aid course. In one sense, learning about visual impairment is on a par with this training — it provides a base level of skill should things go wrong. However, it needs to be much more than this, because it is not only proactive and preventative, but it is intimately related to the creation of an effective curriculum, particularly in relation to the design and delivery of study activities in the field.

Content and approach

The material contained in this guide could form a useful starting point for staff awareness training. Some of it takes a general overview of visual impairment and its relation to fieldwork. Other parts address the more specific issues that are related to undertaking a particular fieldcourse, and may well be used as the basis of a chronologically-arranged checklist, beginning with an audit of fieldcourse venues and accommodation through to the fieldwork activities, the follow-up work and the assessment. Because of this, it might be appropriate to divide staff awareness raising into two distinct phases:

Initial awareness raising

Fieldwork planning

Some issues for discussion

Here are some of the questions, some broad and some relatively narrow, that staff could usefully ask themselves in their awareness raising sessions:

Students as well as staff

It is important that initiatives aimed at raising staff awareness are not divorced from similar initiatives aimed at students. For maximum effect, the two should be developed hand in hand with one another. (See the document on Raising Student Awareness.) At several points in the fieldwork planning process, staff and visually impaired students need to put their heads together, whether it is to decide early on whether certain field activities are viable, or to determine the practicalities of getting from A to B in the field.

Page updated 14 December 2001

GDN pages maintained by Phil Gravestock