The role and value of A-level geography fieldwork : a case study
Fieldwork has occupied a prominent position in UK geography teaching since the establishment of the discipline in the late nineteenth century, and remains a ubiquitous element of the geography curriculum for pre- and post- sixteen year-olds today. Utilising autobiography as a method of reconstruction and interpretation, the thesis explores the development of this central role for fieldwork and argues that, rather than arising from a legitimacy effected by a critical appraisal of fieldwork as a pedagogical device, fieldwork has developed pari passu in response to geography’s disciplinary shifts in philosophical and methodological orientation. As a result, varying conceptions of the purpose of fieldwork exist: as a parallel with practical 'laboratory' science in which theory is thought to be rendered more intelligible by the experience; as a means of teaching geographical enquiry skills; as a process of environmental engagement or immersion. The relationship between these educational objectives remains unclear, and a lack of educational research exists to clarify what is done on fieldwork, its intended educational function and effectiveness, and its place in contemporary geography. The study seeks to redress the balance by aiming to analyse the role and value of a residential fieldwork experience in geographical learning for advanced level geography students (i.e. students aged 16-19); to compare and contrast the respective assessments of the student and teacher of fieldwork’s purpose; and to explore frameworks and methods for evaluating the effectiveness of field instruction as a learning process. The research uses qualitative research strategies in a case-study to describe and analyse the holistic process of learning in action from the perspectives of its participants. Four themes are explored in depth: skills-based learning, affective learning, learning transfer, and geography fieldwork as environmental education. Results show that learning is affected by a tension of purpose between teaching for theoretical exemplification, technical competency and investigative skills, and environmental awareness. Stage-management in hypothesis-testing aimed at developing students' conceptual understanding is the predominant teaching method but despite this emphasis successful transfer of learning is low. The technical competency emphasis is propositioned as moving fieldwork towards utilisation of a technocentric ideology in addressing environmental issues in geography. This is regarded as devaluing an individual's environmental experience, personal commitment, and political obligation which are seen as important aspects of an environmental education. Fieldwork is seen to be most valuable in the affective domain: producing self- and subject-motivation through inter alia novelty of milieu, self-concept enhancement, productive role-modelling, and changing students' 'scripts' for learning. The links between these affective dimensions and fieldwork's role in students' cognitive development offer profitable avenues for further research.