2020 Enhancing Fieldwork Learning Showcase reflections

Reflections on the 2020 Enhancing Fieldwork Learning showcase from postgraduate researcher Janine Maddison (University of Newcastle, @janine_maddison). 

With Covid-19, conferences have had to adapt in 2020. The 10th Enhancing Fieldwork Showcase provided stimulating talks, interactive workshops, fieldwork and opportunities for networking. In fact, the only thing missing from a face to face conference was the pastries and fancy lunch. 

Despite 2020 seeing providers and institutions hurriedly creating alternatives to their scheduled face to face fieldwork events, the response from the teaching community has been amazing, with many learning new skills, delivering in different ways and using technology to tackle some of the pedagogic challenges that fieldwork poses. The showcase provided a much-needed opportunity to break out of our individual silos, share successes and discuss challenges.

This was my first Enhancing Fieldwork Showcase, and it was scheduled perfectly, I have recently left my job at the Field Studies Council to embark on a funded PhD researching the benefits of the virtual world to enhance fieldwork. The showcase provided an opportunity for me to reflect upon FSC’s 2020 #fieldworklive but also to look ahead to my research.  The following are some of the highlights and key points I took from the day. 

  • Social Connectivity

There is often a view that teamwork and co-operation is missing in virtual fieldwork, but many of the #fieldworkfix’s presented shared methods of creating opportunities for ‘peer to peer’ and ‘facilitator to learner’ interaction. 

I liked how the simple design structure shared within Lesley Batty and Joe Berry’s talk from the University of Birmingham virtual fieldwork  provided a daily fieldwork experience with 3 distinct stages ‘prep-doing-reflection’. The collaborative briefings and daily release of VLE content simulated the daily structure of a traditional residential fieldcourse. 

The Open University’s Fieldcasts poster session shone light on the benefit of going live in virtual fieldwork. The ability for students to engage live with presenters showcased an authentic opportunity to develop problem-solving and decision-making skills. 

It was motivating to see that the informal interaction which occurs during fieldwork perhaps over lunch, or in the evening on a residential had not been forgotten. The introduction and trialing of High Fidelity  was an interesting look at how non-engineered social interactions could happen within an online fieldwork environment. 

  • Adapting to new technologies 

A central factor which often hinders the integration of new technologies is that technology leads the way and not pedagogy. The case studies shared within this showcase however, demonstrated how practitioners had looked to technology to support their teaching needs and had then developed the skills to utilize that technology effectively. 

It was refreshing to see how simple technologies had been used effectively by Judith Lock from the University of Southampton with students uploading photographs from field notebooks, providing a reflective learning opportunity for their students, with students sharing results of their 20 minute garden survey during lockdown. 

Addy Pope from ESRI demystified the use of GIS and ArcGIS StoryMaps to create virtual fieldwork, and it was great to see how others had used this to develop their own virtual fieldwork. 

  • Defining this practice

With the hurried response and need for educators to be agile in the pivoting from face to face teaching to remote, online, at home alternatives; little thought has been given to the terminology used to describe these expanding innovations. The term ‘virtual fieldwork’ I believe, is limited in its success at describing the current practice in this field. The term has the potential to summon a deficit view of this practice with thoughts of fieldwork that is inauthentic with limited interaction. The solutions shared within this showcase do not promote that view we have seen examples of authentic fieldwork using real data, real locations and real opportunities for interaction.  As a community of practitoners we must consider the use of a common language that promotes the true value of fieldwork regardless of the delivery channel used. 

I recommend geology, geography, environmental science and ecology teachers interested in technology enhanced learning and the scholarship of teaching and learning watch the recordings from the Enhancing Fieldwork showcase (YouTube EFL Playlist). This is not about technology; it is about addressing barrier and challenges to learning can be addressed.



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