Issues in Providing Learning Support for Disabled Students Undertaking Fieldwork and Related Activities
Role of Fieldwork in Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences
What types of activities are done in fieldwork?
Fieldwork is any structured experience that takes students to learn outside the classroom, where the object of their studies - whether it be a building, a geological site, a museum or a group of people - is also the place where they study. Sometimes the field visit can be a brief trip for an hour or so; often it can involve overnight stays of a week or more, and in both cases it may be formally assessed. For longer visits the term fieldcourse may be preferred (Jenkins, 1997, p.6). What is done in fieldwork varies in part by discipline course. But it includes:
- Students in groups of various sizes being introduced to some landscape feature. The 'showing' might be from a coach or directly on the ground, for example a rock face in a quarry or a particular building in its local setting. It might be seeing some industrial process at a factory; or visiting and meeting with business or planning officials to hear and ask questions about policies. Students here are likely to be the whole year group or module gathered together.
- Students in small groups of perhaps three to five doing some (semi-) independent survey or analysis, for example of stream nitrate levels in environmental science or physical geography or a street survey of fear of crime in human geography. Such group work may well have been guided or even structured by staff but students are likely to be working independently with no direct staff supervision often for a whole day or more.
- Students carrying out some individual survey or analysis, often largely alone or (for safety reasons) in pairs, or with an assistant. This can take many forms from interviewing people for a few hours, as in a visitor survey in a National Park, to the more extreme independent mapping project in earth sciences that may require trekking and camping in mountainous or remote terrain for several weeks. In this case the activity may be less structured, and the central ethos is to encourage independent learning with little or no staff supervision in the field.
Fieldwork can also include lengthy individual or group travel to the field location, which may be abroad. Accommodation, domestic arrangements, and end-of-day socialising are often done in groups too, and may be regarded by some as part of the experience of learning, for example, through practising teamwork.
© Geography Discipline Network/authors, 2001
ISBN: 1 86174 113 8