A day in the country with the Enhancing Fieldwork Learning Advisory Board

FSC Shropshire

I enjoy my role as a member of the Advisory Board for the HEA funded Enhancing Fieldwork Learning project. Today was no exception; our most recent meeting was held at the Field Studies Center at Preston Montford in Shropshire, and offered the opportunity of a post-prandial stroll round the Center’s 12ha grounds.

The project is concerned with discovering and promoting improvements in fieldwork-based pedagogy, in particular as enabled by relatively cheap and available technology. Today the use of mobile phones, Livescribes, iPads and others were mentioned. While I’m not sure about iPads as being relatively cheap, cheap tablets will be upon us soon enough.

So how might technology transform fieldwork? An example is provided by Welsh, France, Whalley and Park who discuss the transformational advatages of geotagging photographs: Geotagging helps to provide an extended (post-fieldwork) space that can be used as the basis for reflection and, through that, more effective learning:

“Taking photographs also allows a student to revisit areas of the landscape post-fieldwork, thereby extending their learning space and allowing for further reflection outside of the landscape. Geotagging photographs can add an enhancement to this as students can associate the photographs with different parts of the landscape and potentially identify spatial patterns as they have the location information associated with that photograph. This is particularly useful for post-fieldwork reflection as the spatial information can act as a reminder of where the photograph was taken which may help to further interpret the landscape. If students annotate their geotagged photographs and add further reflection on the photographs post-fieldwork, this technique could compliment reflective fieldwork diaries (e.g. McGuinness & Simm, 2005) which themselves encourage critical reflection and can facilitate deep learning.”

The context in which this kind of learning occurs is interesting, since fieldwork is concerned with, inter alia, the following

Development of observational, classificatory and analytic skills
Development of teamwork skills
Facilitation of experiential learning
Encouragement of student responsibility for their own learning
Provision of a taste of ‘real’ research and, for some, a taste of future work
Kindling of a respect for the environment
Development of personal skills
Increased interaction between staff and students
[drawn, with two very slight adaptations, from Park]

Of course, this is all very interesting from a Personal Learning Environment perspective, where there are common aims, to help enable reflective and peer-assisted self-directed learning.

As always, a valid question is ‘how do students acquire the self-awareness, analytic skills and knowledge to become self-directed learners who refine and improve their learning practices?’

Today, fieldwork practitioners were mentioned as change agents. Thinking about this, it is apparent that fieldwork provides a great environment to practice the mantra of change agents, “live the change”, and engage with students to assist them to become self-directed learners who increasingly, as they learn, adopt the practices and identity of practitioners in their domain.

We also spent time discussing how to gather evidence of the impact of new practices on learning and on student satisfaction. I look forward to seeing the results of this new phase of activities in the project.

Thanks then, to the project team for organising today.

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