Module 4


Using the Environment and Community
as a Resource for Learning in Coastal
and Marine Studies





Reading 1

The Nature and Purposes of Fieldwork

Reading 2 Risk Management


Reading 1

The Nature and Purposes of Fieldwork

Source: Adapted from Laws, K. (1989) Learning Geography Through Fieldwork in Fien, J., Gerber, R. and Wilson, P. (eds.) The Geography Teacher's Guide to the Classroom, 2nd edition, Macmillan, Melbourne, pp.105-116.

The Purposes of Fieldwork

A great range of objectives can be achieved through fieldwork. Some objectives relate to the formation of attitudes and the development of an aesthetic awareness. Other objectives are concerned with the development of scientific understandings in coastal and marine studies. Still other objectives relate to the development of skills, often those associated with the study of coastal and marine environments (see OHT 3).

Although the teacher holds the ultimate responsibility for what happens during fieldwork, the experience can be used to help students develop a greater sense of their own responsibilities towards each other and the tasks on which they are working. When planning fieldwork it is necessary to match the activities selected with the objectives and purposes of the fieldwork. The selection of objectives will depend to some extent upon the timing of the fieldwork within the sequence of learning activities. For example, fieldwork can be used early in the learning sequence as a means of basic information gathering and increasing the motivation of students. Sometimes, fieldwork may be used towards the end of a unit of work as a means of drawing a number of themes together. At other times field activities may be integrated throughout a unit of work to develop students' understandings of concepts, generalisations and principles.

Approaches to Fieldwork

Two approaches may be identified to fieldwork activities. The first, the traditional approach, is often referred to as field teaching. At its worst, this often involves the teacher taking students to a field location and delivering a mini-lecture from which students are expected to take notes. Little opportunity exists for student input and reaction. At its best, this approach involves students in the careful observation and description of an environment and in suggesting possible explanations based on previously acquired information.

The second approach, a field research approach, also involves observation, description and explanation but adopts a problem-solving focus, using techniques similar to those used in scientific explanation. This is the inductive approach to fieldwork. These two approaches are illustrated in OHTs 4A and 4B. Note that OHT 4C provides an example of a guided approach to field research that is perhaps suitable for younger students.

Each of these approaches has relevance for coastal and marine studies and the approach adopted for any particular field study will depend on the purpose of the field activities. If students are inexperienced in making their own observations or lack confidence in their ability to solve problems, field teaching can help, provided that opportunities for them to find their own examples of features and processes are included as an integral part of the experience. Field research requires a high level of planning on the part of the students and the teacher.


Students must know precisely what it is that they are searching for and how they are to go about their search. Teachers must ensure that students possess the necessary data collecting and recording skills and provide assistance to the students during the analysis phase.


To be meaningful, fieldwork should be integrated with classroom activities. A sequence of activities for students can be identified involving pre-fieldwork, fieldwork and post-fieldwork activities. These steps are illustrated in OHT 5.

Problems and Constraints in Fieldwork

Despite the advantages of fieldwork as a learning experience, the problems and constraints have to be acknowledged. Many of the constraints are associated with organisational factors such as the difficulty of adequately supervising a large group of students and providing them with the assistance they may need, the lessons missed by the teachers conducting the fieldwork, the lessons missed by students, and alterations which have to be made to the school timetable. The time needed to plan a worthwhile field trip and the cost of transport and accommodation, if required, also have to be considered.

The argument that a teacher may lack the detailed knowledge of the locality can be overcome by a reconnaissance, preferably with a colleague, and through reading. However, it must be acknowledged that the time factor is important. The safety of the students is also something which must be kept in mind when planning activities. The problems and constraints emphasise the need to ensure that only meaningful field activities are undertaken. One way this can be achieved is through the specification of the anticipated outcomes of any field experiences. In this way it is possible to alert principals and parents to the importance of the work.

Some problems in fieldwork relate to the learning processes to be used by students. Observation, descriptive analysis and inferring are some of the skills required. However, there are many skills associated with data collection and the analysis of data which students must develop to get the most out of their fieldwork.

Despite concluding this reading with a warning about the problems and constraints associated with fieldwork it should never be forgotten that perhaps the most meaningful and lasting learning takes place when students are actively participating in exploring the great variety of environments around them. In addition, the fieldwork experience provides opportunities for teachers and students to get to know each other and interact outside the structures of the classroom and the school yard.

Reading 2

Risk Management

Source: McConnell, B. and Dalton, J. (1991) Risk Management, in Learning for a Sustainable Environment: Innovations in Teacher Education through Environmental Education, UNESCO Asia-Pacific Centre of Educational Innovation for Development, Bangkok. Draft module on 'Using the Environment as a Resource for Learning'. Adapted in 1995 by Law, B. for use in EE.


Risk is an integral part of taking groups into an outdoor setting and outdoor activities are playing an increasing role in educational, recreational and youth programmes. Risk management is a way of ensuring greater safety and enjoyment in the outdoors by focussing on the planning stages before actually doing the activity. Risk management is the identification, assessment and reduction of risks associated with the activities with which we are involved and is related to any activity from a simple day excursion on easy tracks to an extended trip in remote country. An awareness of potential risks should make us think deeply about what we are taking on, why we are doing it and whether we have the skills. It focuses on the participants, the environment, the equipment, the activity and the skills of the teacher.

The Principles of Risk Management

1. Risk Identification

This simply means that the risks associated with any activity must first be identified before they can be dealt with any further. The risks are associated with: people, equipment, the environment, and particular activities.

The teacher needs to thoroughly understand the composition of the group he/she is leading and the capabilities of individual members, e.g. fitness levels, experience, medical conditions, fears, expectations, etc. Appropriate ratios of experienced to inexperienced people should be considered in relation to any activity.

What equipment is appropriate for the activity? Is the group skilled in using it? What clothing and food will be required and are we prepared for an emergency; i.e. do we have spare food, extra clothing, a first aid kit, etc.?

What risks are associated with a particular environment? e.g., rivers to cross, thick bush, unsafe beach, prevailing weather, or damage to the environment by people involved in specific activities.

Each activity has inherent risks, e.g., using technical equipment, crossing rivers, or working around water. If the teacher is aware of these risks, then steps can be taken to reduce them through, for example, a session on water safety or on due diligence to minimal impact practices before the trip.

If the teacher has identified the risks associated with all the above, this should influence the decisions made about the suitability of the activity or the environment and will ensure a better quality experience for all concerned.

2. Real and perceived risk

Once the risks associated with an activity have been identified, it is sometimes important to distinguish between real risks and perceived risks in order to best deal with them.

Real risks are actual risks, where the participants could either die or be injured, e.g. by drowning or breaking a limb. These risks, if identified, should be avoided or modified to acceptable levels.

Perceived risks are apparent risks which exist in the mind of the participant. Perceived risk is often manifested in fear or anxiety in an individual. Some activities, particularly those involving an outdoor activity skill, have a mixture of real and perceived risk associated with them. From an outdoor leader's perspective, it is important to judge how much fear is present and what steps can be taken to allay these fears.

Some of the real and perceived risks one might face during a beach study are illustrated in the following table.

Risk Source Real Risks Risks
  • Not enough instructors for student numbers

  • No respect for safety practices
  • Falling in pools

  • Fear of water

  • Peer pressure
  • No life saving equipment

  • No spare clothes

  • No suntan lotion or hat
  • Deep water

  • Wet rock - slippery around rock pools

  • Cold

  • Unsafe water conditions
  • Large waves

  • Swept out to sea

  • Exposure

3. Assessment of Risk

When the risks associated with an activity have been identified - and sorted into real and perceived risks - the next step is to assess the amount of risk involved. Usually someone will need to take responsibility for the actual assessment, i.e. the leader or person responsible for organising the activity. This person must use judgement. Judgement involves the experience/skill/knowledge of the people, environment and equipment involved.

The teacher's assessment of risk could have two possible outcomes:

  1. That the risk level is acceptable and the group can continue with the activity.

  2. That there is too much risk. This is unacceptable and other options must be considered.

For example, a group of students arrive at a local beach to participate in a study of life in rock pools. However, when they arrive at the beach they discover there is a strong wind and the surf is very high. The teacher reassesses the situation and decides that the students could be swept away by the huge surf crashing around the rock pools. The plan is modified and the teacher and students move along the beach to the estuary where the water is calmer and complete their study at a different site.

4. Reduction of Risk

There are many ways of modifying risk levels before and during activities.

Employing directive leadership
Use directive leadership in order to reduce the risks of certain activities. Always make sure the direction isaccompanied with a reason so that individuals can learn from the experience. For example, it is appropriate to ask students to:
  • Move away from rock pools that are deep and have an unsafe working area.
  • Put on extra clothing if they are cold and exposed to the wind.
  • Work together in pairs and not to move away to other areas before checking with a supervisor.

Knowing your students
The better you know your group the more aware you are of their capabilities, individual needs, reactions to stress, etc. If you are aware of these things you are less likely to put them into situations which are beyond them or where the risk level is too great.

Disclosing the risk
This is an often neglected but very important technique for reducing risks both before and during activities. It is not sufficient for a teacher to be the only one possessing the knowledge of the route or contingency plans. Good leaders reveal to the participants as much as possible about the planned activity by, for example:
  • Actually telling the group the name of beach they will be going to for the day, and giving them maps of the area.
  • Letting them know what they should do if they are separated from the party.
  • Letting them know who is carrying emergency equipment and who has first aid skills.

Teaching by progression
This involves the teaching of a particular skill by breaking it down into its component parts and building upon each one thereby increasing the complexity of the task until an eventual goal is reached, e.g. in teaching navigation in a coastal environment, such steps might include:

Step 1 Indoor session with simple maps
Step 2 Practical session in immediate environment

Step 3 Indoor session with topographical maps

Step 4 Navigation exercise in open environment with clear boundaries

Step 5 Navigation session in coastal situation


Using this approach the students are very likely to learn the skills they need and to feel confident and therefore less likely, for example, to get lost when participating in field trip experiences.

Developing safety consciousness
As a teacher gains more experience in working with groups in the outdoors, there is usually a corresponding increase in their safety consciousness and awareness. It is crucial for all outdoor leaders that they never stop learning and questioning. Safety consciousness is not something you can pass (like a driving test) or pull out (like a pocket knife). It is an ongoing process of continually evaluating, applying skills and knowledge to new and changing situations, and exercising judgement in order to prevent incidents before they ever have a chance to develop.

Having the personal skills appropriate to the activity
Teachers should have the skills and experience appropriate to the activity before they take groups into the outdoors. If a teacher's skill levels are not much higher than the participants', they are unlikely to be able to cope if something goes wrong. Thus teachers should strive to keep a good safety margin between the skills of their students and their own skills.

In summary, some effective ways of reducing risks are:

  • Employing directive leadership;
  • Knowing your students;
  • Disclosing the risk;
  • Teaching by progression;
  • Developing safety consciousness; and
  • Having skills appropriate to the activity.

There are many ways that a teacher can gain the appropriate skills and experience necessary to take on responsibilities for others in the outdoors:

  • Go along on activities in an assistant's role to learn from more experienced teachers.
  • Go on a suitable course, e.g., first aid, risk management.
  • Build up experience through personal recreation.
  • Seek opportunities to lead groups on activities within your own personal capabilities.
  • Logbook - outdoor leaders are now encouraged to keep a record of all their experiences in the outdoors.
  • Assessing your own skills regularly with the help of others is a useful technique for personal growth and the development of effective leadership.

5. Coping with Emergencies

Your planning should always take into account the possibility of an emergency. For example, you may have to spend the night out or a member of the party may be injured or lost. If you are to cope with one of these crises, you will need to be prepared with emergency shelter, spare food, adequate clothing, a first aid kit and knowledge of how to use it.

If your risk management planning has been thorough, if you have kept the group involved and informed, if you have set a goal which is achievable in the conditions, then you are unlikely to have to cope with a major emergency. The success of any activity really relates to the preparation and planning which has gone into it beforehand.