Using the Environment
The Nature and Purposes of Fieldwork
The Purposes of FieldworkA 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 FieldworkTwo 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
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.
IntroductionRisk 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.
2. Real and perceived riskOnce 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.
3. Assessment of RiskWhen 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:
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 RiskThere are many ways of modifying risk levels before and during activities.
In summary, some effective ways of reducing risks are:
There are many ways that a teacher can gain the appropriate skills and experience necessary to take on responsibilities for others in the outdoors:
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.