The two dominant methodologies of fieldwork practice, the
traditional and the scientific, have different aims implicit within them. The
traditional approaches, sometimes termed 'fieldwork excursions' have aims rooted
in the development of content knowledge. The scientific approach of data
collection/hypothesis testing and field enquiry extend the learning
opportunities available and promote the application of learning objectives to
the planning of fieldwork. Using the scientific methodology, learning in the
field becomes as rigorous as learning in the classroom from a planning
These two approaches can be complimentary, with the scientific
approach placing a high value on the development of numeracy and analytical
thinking skills and the more humanistic fieldwork excursion approach emphasizing
and fostering the development of oracy and literacy, and a sense of place.
It can be concluded that fieldwork may be categorised according
to its degree of student-centredness. The more traditional, teacher-centred
approaches to fieldwork, centre on explanation/lecture, note-taking and directed
observation. Under such conditions there is less scope for active student
involvement. At best they are required to observe, describe and explain features
of the environment using previously acquired knowledge. A more effective, but
time-consuming approach is one that incorporates the processes of field
research. While still incorporating the elements of observation, description and
explanation it adopts a problem-solving focus. Students identify a geographical
issue or problem as a result of their observations or studies; they formulate a
hypothesis; design a research methodology; collect and record data; process and
analyse the information and draw conclusions that result in the acceptance or
rejection of the original hypothesis. The type of fieldwork undertaken
ultimately depends on the purpose of the activity. Many activities will contain
elements of both approaches. The field research approach, where time is
available, is our preferred methodology, enhancing the studentsí ability to
apply inquiry-based skills in different geographical contexts.
We adopt one of three possible approaches to fieldwork,
depending upon the curricular requirements of the visiting staff.
A deductive approach,
where students generate aims and hypotheses based upon prior theoretical
knowledge, select appropriate methods, collect data and carry out analysis.
An inductive or 'enquiry'
approach, as generally understood in the context of 16-19 U.K. geography. Issues
are introduced, key questions raised, and students select methods to investigate
and develop possible solutions to these.
An 'Individual Inquiry'
approach, whereby students have the opportunity to select their own topic, adopt
their own approach and complete an independent project or field investigation.
Staff act as supervisors and advisors, providing equipment, advice and ensuring
Most commonly, teachers select from our range of field studies
that have been designed to meet the requirements of the AS/A2 level U.K. and IB
syllabuses. These field studies lend themselves to both deductive and inductive
or enquiry approaches.
The deductive method
The deductive method works from the more general to the more
specific. For example, we might begin with a theoryabout
expected downstream changes in river channel characteristics. We then narrow
that down into more specific hypotheses that we can test. We narrow down even
further when we collect data to address the hypotheses. This ultimately leads us
to be able to test the hypotheses with specific data - a confirmation (or not)
of the original theory.
The deductive field study method
The inductive method
Inductive reasoning works the other way round, moving from specific
observations to broader generalizations and theories. This approach works well
with many issues-based studies, for example, an investigation of the impact of
urban renewal schemes in inner-city Barcelona. In inductive reasoning, we begin
with the exploration of an area, recording specific observations and data. An
analysis of the data enables the identification of patterns and the formulation
of some tentative hypotheses that we can explore. The inductive approach ends
with the development of some general conclusions or theories.
The inductive field study method
Inductive reasoning, by its very nature, is more open-ended
and exploratory. Deductive reasoning is more narrow in nature and tends to be
focused explicitly on testing or confirming hypotheses. Many students enjoy a
more exploratory approach, yet limited time and examination board requirements
often lead teachers to prefer the deductive route. The inductive method can be
more intellectually satisfying, lending itself to a wide range of student study
topics and where a field study has been piloted, risk assessed and has known
outcomes, the approach can also be a very effective use of the time available.
Even though a particular study may look purely deductive, most
geographical research involves both inductive and deductive reasoning at some
point. Even in the most constrained studies, students may observe patterns in
the data that lead them to develop new theories.
The Usefulness of Fieldwork
Improving observation skills and a better understanding of the processes
that contributed to the development of environmental features.
Experiential learning: fieldwork provides opportunities to learn through
direct, concrete experiences, enhancing the understanding that comes from
observing 'real world' manifestations of abstract geographical concepts and
Increasing geographical interest through interacting with the environment.
Directly involving students in responsibility for learning: fieldwork
requires that students plan and carry out learning in an independent manner.
Developing and applying analytical skills: fieldwork relies on a range of
skills, many of which are not used in the classroom.
Experiencing real-life research: developing investigative, communicative and
Developing environmental ethics and increasing the appreciation of the
aesthetic qualities of the biophysical and built environments.
Teamwork: fieldwork experiences provide an important teamwork element, with
social benefits derived from working cooperatively with others in a setting
outside the classroom.
Skill development: observation, synthesis, evaluation, reasoning,
instrumentation skills, practical problem solving, adaptability to new demands
that call upon creative solutions, etc.
Uses of technology: applying technology to investigate problems and
U.K. Key Skill development, namely communication, application of number,
information technology, working with others, improving own learning performance
and problem solving.
To be effective fieldwork should:
be well planned, interesting, cost effective and represent an
effective use of the time available
target specific syllabus and topic outcomes
provide opportunities for students to develop a range of
cognitive and manipulative skills
be integrated with the subject matter to ensure that students
take full advantage of enhanced understanding that is achieved through direct
observation, data collection/recording and inquiry learning.
be supported by pre-and post-excursion classroom activities that
establish the context for learning and provide the necessary follow-up and
Inquiry Centred Learning
This approach has a number of stages, but should not be viewed as a rigid
formula. The intent is to enable students to become adept scientific
investigators. The steps are as follows:
stating the problem;
formulating the hypotheses;
designing the experiment or fieldwork;
interpreting the data;
Bartlett and Cox (1982) applied the scientific inquiry process
to field study and developed a schema for field based inquiry. The strength of
the schema is that it results in two forms of field based analysis of spatial
information. One is the enhanced knowledge and understanding of a particular
problem or issue, whilst the other is the enhanced knowledge and explanation of
a particular problem or issue leading to theory building or modeling with far
greater reaching explanatory powers.
Geofile (A level) and GeoActive (GCSE), (pub. Stanley Thornes
U.K.) are excellent sources for advice on investigative enquiry techniques, with
Stephen Burton's fieldwork techniques series being particularly detailed.
'Fieldwork in Geography' (GeoJournal Library, Pub. Kluwer Academic, 2000),
includes a range of methodologies and alternative strategies, with the aim of
reaffirming the centrality of fieldwork in geographical and wider education.
It offers fresh ideas for both promoting fieldwork and for maintaining its
place in the geography curriculum.