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Fieldwork involves going on a trip to explore something relevant to a module. The idea behind fieldwork is to give students some practical experience of something which has been explored more theoretically elsewhere on a module.  

When taking students on fieldwork, it is important to remember that the needs of individual students may vary dramatically and may not be similar to our own, or to those of previous students.  

Best Practice Tips

When organising fieldwork:  

  • Review University policy on fieldwork by looking at the Learning and Teaching Handbook and any other relevant University documentation, and consulting the Legal Department, if necessary, too.  
  • Be particularly aware of the need to do a Risk Assessment, which takes into account specific students’ needs, some of which might seem unusual to you. Take follow-up action based on the Risk Assessment.  
  • Review any records of previous field trips.  
  • Liaise informally and formally (e.g. by email and/or meetings) with colleagues at Durham and in other universities to get as many pointers to best practice for that kind of field trip as possible, particularly asking others about student needs and focusing especially on those who had problems on the field trip.  
  • Do online searches to see if there is any publicly available guidance on fieldtrips, or even blogs about similar field trips.  
  • Advertise the fieldwork to students and invite them to share any concerns they have with you privately, noting that some students may fear a loss of face, or simple embarrassment, if they are required to mention anticipated difficulties in front of other students.  
  • Prepare draft documentation for a field trip and invite comments from colleagues who have organised or led similar fieldwork with students.  
  • Prepare documentation for students and invite comments so that any issues for individual students can be proactively resolved, where possible.  

While doing fieldwork with students:  

  • Make it clear to students, in writing and through face-to-face commentary, that they can come to you if they have any difficulties.  
  • Be very observant of any difficulties students are having.  
  • Have regular review sessions with students, in which you encourage very open comments about the students’ experience. Make these have an informal or playful feel as often as possible, so that students feel relaxed and able to express any concerns.  
  • Keep a log of any inclusivity issues which arise (as well as of any others, e.g. relating to safety or learning outcomes).  
  • Ensure that all teaching staff, including postgraduate support, are clearly briefed on the learning objectives and engage and support all students. 

After doing fieldwork:  

  • Evaluate the learning outcomes for the fieldwork, paying particular attention to any outcomes which were not met because of students’ difficulties. Gather feedback from students on the aspects of your preparation they found helpful, what they had difficulty with during the trip and what they would like to see on subsequent trips (for follow-up trips with the same students, or for trips for future students).  
  • Review what went well from your point of view and consider what could be put in place to prevent any problems which occurred on future trips.  
  • Consider how students could be challenged more in the future and how some students might be disadvantaged (or advantaged) by these additional learning outcomes.

Further Reading

Hall, T., Healey, M. & Harrison, M. (2002). Fieldwork and disabled students: discourses of exclusion and inclusion. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 27 (2), 213-231.

Hughes, A. (2016). Exploring normative whiteness: ensuring inclusive pedagogic practice in undergraduate fieldwork teaching and learning. Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 40 (3), 460-477.