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Taking students outdoors to learn in high places

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Fieldwork is an integral component of the geography degree. It is perceived by lecturers and students alike as an enjoyable, valuable learning experience outside in the real world. But what determines the type of field experiences we offer? To what extent is the fieldwork experience informed by best practice in pedagogy, research location and field, institutional practice/constraints, leader's outdoor experience, or a combination of all these and more? This paper offers a personal reflection on physical geography fieldtrip design in New Zealand, Britain and Spain involving New Zealand and British students over a period of 14 years, spanning two contrasting university systems and two institutions. A range of learning experiences is considered: residential and day trips, Cook's Tours and detailed investigations. These cover a range of academic and altitudinal levels from first year to final year undergraduate and from sea level to mountain top. Key drivers in the design and development of these field courses are considered in order to explore the reason for taking students to a plethora of ‘high places’, defined not only in the sense of altitude, but also in the sense of perceived intrinsic geographical value. The role played by the ‘great outdoors’ in fostering development of geographical knowledge is discussed by considering the notion that taking students outside to learn in ‘high places’ will automatically be of a cognitive advantage and intrinsically foster deeper levels of learning. The outdoor environment has much to offer the development of geographical knowledge among student cohorts, but care is required to maximise its potential.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Geography Programme, School of People, Environment & Planning, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand.

Publication date: 2012-03-01

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