Fieldwork: Students Gaining Real-Life Experience
Do you want to give students a first real-life experience to ensure that they develop (technical) skills and also positively influence their attitude towards their field of study? Then fieldwork may be a suitable extension to your teaching practice.
What is Fieldwork?
Fieldwork is a teaching method that allow students to leave the Ghent University campusses to interact with the 'real world'. It is an autonomous learning situation in which they learn to use field material and develop technical skills.
Fieldwork can be lecturer- or student-driven. We advise a student-driven process because research shows that students are more actively involved during the activity and develop a deeper understanding and develop a more positive attitude.
When to Use Fieldwork?
Fieldwork contributes to:
- the application and rehearsal of knowledge;
- the development of a research attitude: by seeing, experiencing and researching, new questions are raised amongst the students;
- a better representation of the field by seeing, observing and doing;
- learning to collect and analyse data;
- connecting theory and practice;
- developing problem-solving skills;
- a positive attitude towards the field of study.
How to Organize Fieldwork?
Fieldwork consists of three phases: preparation, the actual activity and feedback.
Before starting fieldwork, give a solid theoretical introduction during your lectures. Provide specific material and concepts that the students will encounter during the fieldwork.
Go for a limited-choice activity, which means that students choose an activity that they work on in small groups from a limited list. Allowing students to decide for themselves leads to higher motivation and involvement. Describe for each activity what they need to focus on, how much time they will need, what actions they have to undertake and in what order they need to carry them out. Your role as a lecturer during these activities is to facilitate discussion between the students and not to be the source of information.
During feedback, the central focus is on the elaboration of the students’ experience during fieldwork. In psychology, elaboration stands for deep processing of information by linking new information to already acquired knowledge stored in the long-term memory. Therefore, let the students create an end product, such as a presentation or report in which they demonstrate a link between their experiences during fieldwork and the underlying theoretical concepts and ideas. You can assess that end product.
Fieldwork is applied in various study programmes at Ghent University, including:
- African Languages and Cultures;
- Conflict & Development;
- Geology and Geography;
- Engineering Technology: Civil Engineering Technology
What Points to Consider?
Solid Time Management
Consider the available time so that the students can complete their assignment successfully.
Focus on Skills
Contrary to a field trip or company visit, the emphasis in fieldwork is on acquirnig skills, and not on casually presenting theory and assessing.
Fieldwork requires adjustments from the students. In their first fieldwork, they will often find seemingly simple actions quite challenging. Only when they have a little more experience with fieldwork can you assume that these simple actions happen ‘naturally’.
Personal coaching, monitoring and feedback are a must in fieldwork.
Want to know more?
Read the sources this education tip is based on:
- Fuller, I., Edmondson, S., France, D., Higgitt, D., & Ratinen, I. (2006). International perspectives on the effectiveness of geography fieldwork for learning. Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 30, 89–101. doi:10.1080/03098260500499667
- Remmen, K. B., & Frøyland, M. (2014). Implementation of guidelines for effective fieldwork designs: exploring learning activities, learning processes, and student engagement in the classroom and the field. International Research in Geographical and Environmental Education, 23(2), 103–125. doi:10.1080/10382046.2014.891424