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Student Perceptions of Geography and Environmental Science Fieldwork in the Light of Restricted Access to the Field, Caused by Foot and Mouth Disease in the UK in 2001

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Internationally, fieldwork is generally seen as intrinsic to the very nature of geographical education. However, objective experimentation comparing student learning experiences with and without fieldwork is rare. During 2001 in the UK, fieldwork was withdrawn from many university degree programmes as Foot and Mouth Disease led to restrictions on access to the countryside. This restriction provided an unexpected opportunity to assess student perceptions of fieldwork in the light of its absence and to review those alternative learning strategies which were put in its place (where appropriate). To this end, nominal group technique (NGT) was applied to five groups of students from five separate UK universities to obtain information on the groups' perceptions of the value of fieldwork. NGT elicited almost 300 responses from 33 final-year students representing a high level of group consensus on the issues involved. Rationalisation of responses identified 12 categories, which reflect and amplify key educational objectives addressed by fieldwork in geography and environmental sciences from existing theoretical literature. Results demonstrate that student perception of fieldwork (based on previous university-level field experiences) is overwhelmingly positive. The groups identified the experience of geographical reality, developing subject knowledge, acquiring technical, transferable and holistic skills, and working with peers and lecturers as being the most important perceived benefits of fieldwork. Negative impacts of fieldwork included high levels of time consumption. Using a systematic and objective methodology, these results confirm, in a novel rigorous multi-institutional approach, the conception of geography and environmental science fieldwork as being of significant value for the overall student learning experience.

Keywords: Fieldwork; nominal group technique; objective evaluation.; student perception

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: University of Northumbria, UK LTSN Subject Centre for Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Plymouth, UK City University, London, UK

Publication date: 2003-03-01

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