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The Value of Fieldwork in Life and Environmental Sciences in the Context of Higher Education: A Case Study in Learning About Biodiversity

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Sara Marsham


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Fieldwork is assumed by most practitioners to be an important if not essential component of a degree level education in the environmental sciences. However, there is strong evidence that as a result of a wide range of pressures (academic, financial and societal) fieldwork is in decline in the UK and elsewhere. In this paper we discuss the value of fieldwork in a higher education context and present the results of a case study which illustrates its value to student learning and the wider student experience. We used qualitative and quantitative methods to compare the impact of two learning tasks upon the affective and cognitive domains of students. We designed two tasks. One task that included fieldwork, and required students to collect organisms from the field and make labelled drawings of them, and one task that omitted the fieldwork and simply required drawing of specimens that the students had not collected. We evaluated the students’ experience through structured and semi-structured questionnaires and written exercises. Students did not perceive the two tasks as being equivalent to one another. They reported that they enjoy fieldwork and value it (in the contexts of their learning at university, life-long learning, and in relation to their career aspirations) and felt that they learn more effectively in the field. Our students were better able to construct a taxonomic list of organisms that they had collected themselves, better able to recall the structural detail of these organisms and were better able to recall the detail of an ecological sampling methodology that they had personally carried out in the field rather than one that a tutor had described to them in a classroom setting. Our case study supports the growing body of evidence that fieldwork is an important way of enhancing undergraduate learning and highlights some key areas for future research.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Scott GW, Goulder R, Wheeler P, Scott LJ, Tobin ML, Marsham S

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Journal of Science Education and Technology

Year: 2012

Volume: 21

Issue: 1

Pages: 11-21

Print publication date: 13/01/2011

ISSN (print): 1059-0145

ISSN (electronic): 1573-1839

Publisher: Springer Netherlands


DOI: 10.1007/s10956-010-9276-x


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