Issues in Providing Learning Support for Disabled Students Undertaking Fieldwork and Related Activities

Examples of Good Practice in Higher Education Institutions Offering Field Classes

This section is structured around the same headings as Section 9, and provides selected examples of good practice which are worthy of consideration by other departments.

Planning the whole curriculum

The specific reasons given for undertaking fieldwork as part of the curriculum in geography, earth and environmental sciences have been set out in an earlier section (Why is fieldwork so central to these discplines?). The perceived significance and centrality of fieldwork for these disciplines explains the importance of making field experiences more accessible and inclusive. However, some departments have stepped back from a focus only on field classes and embraced a more holistic and inclusive approach to curriculum design for the whole programme of study. In the case of geography courses, this may have been facilitated by the inclusion of human diversity as part of the formal curriculum, whereas in the case of the earth and environmental sciences the imperative has more usually been ethical, including strong environmental/social justice concerns.

All HEIs are now required to have institutional policies in place describing the arrangements that are made to accommodate the needs of disabled students. Consequently individual departmental arrangements will nest within those policies, and will need to emphasise the arrangements to cover specific distinctive features of programmes of study which they provide, rather than the generic.

Examples of good practice are included in Boxes 22 and 23.

Box 22: Dundee University Department of Geography Student Disability Policy

This three page published statement for staff and students states initially that:

'The Department of Geography is committed to providing access to full teaching and learning programmes for those with physical impairments, mental health problems and medical conditions'.

It explains what is embraced by the term 'disability' and refers to the institutional support available through the University's 'Disability Support Centre' (DSC).

It also outlines the extensive previous experience that the department has had in this area, and stresses the requirement for students to approach staff to make their needs understood. Particular aspects of the provision are described, one section of which relates to field trips. They also explain that their basic policy statements are the foundation for developing responses specific to individual disabled students, and record that a consultation exercise with students with different impairments was being undertaken by the DSC at the time the guidance was being drafted. The document is positive and supportive without being intrusive.

The field trip section emphasises what has previously be done by the department to accommodate specific needs, noting that:

'In the past, students with physical impairments and mental health problems have carried out fieldwork assisted by staff in terms of supported access, flexible working and resting arrangements and flexible transportation. The department is very aware of the unique access difficulties which studying geography at university can present…. If for some reason a student cannot directly access the field as a result of a physical, mental or medical condition, the department will always provide academically rigorous alternatives in terms of teaching and learning. The department will also seek to be flexible in terms of implementing fieldwork in generally accessible locations.'

Dundee summarise this section by highlighting:

'We will provide field-based teaching and learning that is sensitive to, and flexible in terms of, the needs of students with physical impairments, medical conditions and mental health problems.'

Box 23: Edge Hill University College's Validation Document

Provision for disabled students can be planned from the outset, and at Edge Hill this is effected through the validation documents for their geography programmes. A simple but effective summary statement notes that:

'Students with disabilities are encouraged to participate as fully as possible in fieldwork. Students should consult module tutors regarding the physical demands of specific fieldwork and, where appropriate, an alternative mode of activity will be negotiated with the module tutor. The Head of Subject will be informed by the module tutor of the agreed substitute activity. Module tutors will seek to respect the equal opportunities of all participants in the module concerned and ensure a comparability of learning and assessment experience.'

The emphasis on negotiation is clear, and the availability of alternative equivalent activities is highlighted.

Page updated 14 December 2001

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