Examples of Good Practice in Earth Science
Learning & Teaching:


UK Geosciences Fieldwork Symposium: Proceedings

A bound hard copy of these proceedings may be obtained for free from GEES SC, contact:
Tel: 01752 233 530
Fax: 01752 233 534


Contributions from Earth Science Academic Staff

Contributions from Earth Sciences Students

The Industrial Perspective

Fieldwork | Good Practice Keywords | Authors | Titles | Institutions | Home

The UK Geosciences Fieldwork Symposium

Helen King
Project Manager of the Earth Science Staff Development Project, Department of Geology, University of Southampton SO14 3ZH

Why was the event convened?
The UK Geosciences Fieldwork Symposium was convened by the UK Geosciences Education Consortium (a body consisting of the Earth Science Staff Development Project and the UK Earth Science Personal & Career Development Network) as part of a series of national conferences and workshops held to provide a forum for the discussion of, and to promote, good practice in Earth Science learning and teaching and the development of Earth Science students' key skills.

If facilitated appropriately, fieldwork provides an invaluable opportunity for students to develop many skills both 'generic' (e.g. teamworking, note-taking, oral - aural - written communication etc.) and geological (e.g. collection and assimilation of data, application of learning to real environments etc.). Perhaps most importantly, particularly in the case of modular degree courses, fieldwork can address and resolve the problem of compartmentalisation of knowledge - i.e. to be effective field geologists, students must be able to take knowledge and understanding from separate modules and combine, compare and contrast it to produce an evaluation of the localities visited.

How was the event structured?
The event was structured around a series of case study presentations together with ample opportunity for plenary and small group discussion. The presentations were grouped under four main headings:

Assessment of fieldwork was addressed by small group discussion and posters on all of these themes were displayed throughout the symposium. Abstracts from the poster and case study presentations are given in the Appendix to this volume. Safety issues were not covered in this event as it was preferred to focus on learning and teaching issues and readers are referred to the CHUGD/Geological Society publication "Safety in Geoscience Fieldwork: Precautions, Procedures and Documentation" for advice and guidelines.

In order to provide a formal account of the proceedings of the UK Geosciences Fieldwork Symposium the rest of this paper outlines key points arising from the event together with a detail of the issues discussed in the assessment session. The 'comments by the author' are entirely my own thoughts and are open for discussion if necessary.

Pre-Fieldwork Preparation, Planning and Training
Key Points:

Other points brought up in discussion:

Comments from the author:
The idea of pre-fieldwork preparation is that it should be done prior to going into the field and, hence, save time in the field on simple exercises such as the use of a compass/clinometer which can just as readily be done in the class room with a sloping surface. The main issue appeared to be that of time, whole pre-fieldwork modules would not necessarily be effective - it doesn't take long to understand the concepts of, for example, the compass-clinometer but without practice out in the field it is more difficult to master. Although addressing fieldwork training actually in the field may 'lose days' surely these days have been very valuable, working in the field can only be an effective learning experience if the students have some idea of what they are doing and why they are doing it. If a few days can be spent in the first year thoroughly training the students in field techniques then they are able to approach any further field work more confidently. It is a matter of course for qualified geologists to study maps, appropriate techniques etc. for their field area before undertaking fieldwork, so perhaps students should be enabled to approach fieldwork in the same manner.

Tutorials are ideal forums for introducing concepts and methods required in the field and to give the students a chance to practice techniques prior to being faced with the real thing. If there really is no time in the curriculum perhaps Computer Aided Learning (CAL) packages could be used, for example, the UK Earth Science Courseware Consortium produces software for teaching including 'Preparing for Fieldwork: Using the Compass/Clinometer', 'Geological Map Skills' and 'Fieldwork Safety'.

If it is impossible to introduce fieldwork in any way prior to going out into the field then the students need to be guided through techniques. The example of the fieldwork workbook given by Robin Gill in this volume offers a useful and effective method of guiding new students through the rigours of fieldwork.

The idea of pre-fieldwork orientation can be useful and save time, though perhaps not with students new to fieldwork. The expedition approach to fieldwork as described by David Petley in this volume lays the organisation (including funding) entirely on student groups thus enhancing their organisation and communication skills (invaluable if they are interested in a career as an Earth Science in academia or industry) as well as preparing them extensively for the trip itself.

Effective Teaching in the Field
Key Points:

Other points brought up in discussion:

Comments from the author:
There was perhaps an over-emphasis at this event on geological mapping, however, this isn't the only field skill that students may require. Diverse degree programmes is a potential problem if only mapping is addressed in all fieldwork. In 2nd and 3rd years in particular, the range of specialisations can be taken advantage by using an exploration approach to fieldwork, for example, in a given field area, the geologists can interpret the in situ rock formations, the geophysicists can offer methods of analysing deeper structures and environmental scientists can evaluate the effect of the local geology on the area (e.g. quarries, subsidence etc.). This type of field exercise need not be complicated or require the use of lots of equipment - it could also be easily introduced in the laboratory by getting the students to examine geological maps.

Independent mapping is becoming increasingly difficult to organise, particularly with more stringent safety regulations. However, mapping in pairs may be no less challenging - if the individuals map within sight/contact of each other for example.

'Cook's Tours' are recognised by the majority of institutions as an ineffective technique but, in these days of reduced funds and increased lecturer workload it is tempting to fall back on this method as an easy/cheap option. For inspiration, the reader is referred to the alternatives contributed to the Symposium some of which are detailed in this volume. As emphasised in the introduction to this paper, fieldwork provides an invaluable learning environment and should be exploited as such.

The Industrial Perspective
Key Points:

Other points brought up in discussion:

Comments from the author:
The over-riding issue highlighted by this session is that students are not necessarily being as well prepared on fieldwork for careers as Geoscientists as they could be. Though institutions are addressing fieldwork more than adequately at present perhaps there are some further points (as suggested above) of which students should be aware. Whilst it may not be practical to teach all of these topics, the students should, at the very least, be made aware that they are an issue, for example - soils/vegetation/land use can be easily pointed out in the field on the way to the exposure, as can weathering. Mapping in urban areas could be addressed in tutorials as a problem-solving exercise - ask the students how they would go about it. In simple, often quick ways the students can be made aware of all of the above 'missing' skills.

Student Presentations - a Consumer's View of Fieldwork
Key Points:

Other points brought up in discussion:

Comments from the author:
One of the main issues which came out of this session was, perhaps inevitably, the problem of wet weather. Obviously it is not practical to remain indoors whenever it rains particularly with the British climate as the students may never go out! One way to tackle this attitude towards inclement weather is to engender a sense that the field work is 'field training' - and a geologist should be prepared for all eventualities including bad weather. The students who attended the symposium gave the impression that they are more willing to put up with bad weather if they are busy - rain and wind can become intolerable, however, if you are standing around with nothing practical to do or being conducted on the unfavoured (from the students' point of view) Cook's Tour.

The other key point from the session was that of pre-fieldwork preparation and ideas for dealing with this have been discussed under that heading near the beginning of this synopsis. However, it is worth pointing out that, as research geologists, we make sure we are well prepared before embarking on fieldwork so perhaps it is unfair to expect the students to go in to all fieldwork situations 'blind' (though the advantages, particularly to final year students, of mystery fieldtrips are described by Alistair Vaan in this volume).

Assessment of fieldwork was dealt with fairly briefly at the symposium using small group discussion. This was not because it is unimportant but because of the shortage of time, a forum for the discussion of many assessment issues is to be provided in November 1998 by means of the UK Geosciences Assessment Symposium.

The participants separated themselves in three groups each to discuss one of the following topics:
A: What to assess (e.g. minimising staff workload)?
B: What is the purpose of assessment (e.g. formative or summative)?
C: How to assess in the field (e.g. individuals or groups?).

The notes from each group, reproduced below, are fairly self-explanatory and though they don't necessarily provide all the answer to the above questions they give plenty of food for thought. Further ideas for assessment are included in many of the papers in this volume, particularly that by Don Mackenzie & Julia Stowell on the use of CBA the philosophy of which might be adapted for a paper-based environment where the technology is not available.

Group A. - What to assess? Minimisation.

1. What? When?
2. How?
Criterion-based (too prescriptive?)Layered? Broad -based.
  • Pre-field class
  • While working
  • On course (field slips, notebooks)
  • Synthesis on course· Post-field class
4. Minimalisation?
Postgrads? Sharing load?
3. Why?
  • Module mark
  • Degree
  • Motivates some!

Group B. - Teaching and assessing field courses.

Group C. - How to assess?

Process / practice of fieldwork Quality of field results / records Knowledge obtained
Students either
A - Make things happen,
B - Help things happen,
C - Watch things happen or
D - Haven't a clue.
Portfolio of work
Oral exam
Written exam
Computer assessment
Report / essay
Other points:
  • Importance of fieldwork
  • Problems of assessing groupwork
  • Student self-assessment

Looking back over the various points addressed at the UK Geosciences Fieldwork Symposium it appears that one factor effects many, if not all, aspects of fieldwork - that of attitude. If both the students and the staff approach fieldwork as training for field geologists rather than as an opportunity to see as many rocks as possible then it will automatically become an invaluable experience and perhaps may even provide a motivation other than assessment!

Fieldwork | Good Practice Keywords | Authors | Titles | Institutions | Home

'Being There':
A Short Review of Field-Based Teaching and Learning

Duncan HawleyChair, Earth Science Staff Development Project Steering Committee,
Chair, Earth Science Teachers' Association,
Department of Education, University of Wales, Swansea.

Fieldwork is regarded as a fundamental scientific activity in the geosciences and has been described as a scientific birth right for geologists (Keller 1963), although fieldwork in undergraduate courses has come under scrutiny as issues of safety and finance have placed increasing pressure on the provision of fieldwork (Smith 1996). The importance of fieldwork in geoscience education and training has been outlined by Cooray (1992) and more recently underlined by the Geological Society (1996) in their requirement to 'include an extensive programme of field study with clearly defined learning outcomes' for geoscience degree course accreditation. But there are counter-arguments, captured by Wright (this volume ) when he offers the (heretical) view that "geological mapping is simply another skill amongst many in the range of marketable Earth science skills".

In recent years justifications for fieldwork have centred on the key skills that fieldwork situations engender; the planning, organisation, personal and inter-personal skills etc. and these are undoubtedly valuable general skills (see Thomas, this volume). Yet whilst fieldwork provides a powerful context for the development of key skills, it is not unique in doing so. Consequently, it remains a responsibility of geoscience educators to be clear about why, how and what styles of field-based teaching are valuable to the learning of geoscience.

Why teach in the field?
Laboratory-based projects, the introduction of computer aided learning, video and virtual fieldwork offer alternatives to traditional outdoor fieldwork (Gold et. al, 1991) and there is a place for all these alternatives within modern geoscience courses. As a result, it is necessary to examine what field-based teaching and learning can offer which cannot be easily acquired through 'alternative fieldwork'.

Lonergan and Andresen (1988) suggest that the uniqueness of field experiences results from:

They also suggest that the learning in the field offers :

Particular cognitive benefits of learning in the field are :

Similar benefits were found by Kern and Carpenter (1986) who discovered that students who had undertaken a geology course which included field activities were able to display higher orders of thinking (Bloom, 1956) when compared to students who had completed the course with laboratory-based studies only.

However, McPartland and Harvey (1987), working in the context of A level geography students, found that fieldwork can be in danger of being too distinctive an experience from other teaching and consider this responsible for students often failing to transfer learning from one entity to another. The A level students failed to integrate effectively any insights gained from fieldwork into their examination responses; a situation similarly observed in geology examinations from my own experience as an A level examiner and also noted by Lusty (1973). There is no automatic osmosis of information from the field into students' heads, neither do familiar classroom techniques automatically prove effective to extract maximum benefit in a field setting (Lonergan and Andresen, 1988). Due to its difference from institutional teaching, fieldwork is often considered an idiosyncratic and eccentric experience. If the quality of learning from the field experience is to be enhanced then links between institutional work and fieldwork need to be highlighted with adequate briefing (Falk et al. 1978, Koran and Baker 1979, Orien and Hofstein 1994). Burnett, Siddall, Filipescu, Hoare and Howard (this volume) offer a way forward in this, with the integration of pre and post field tuition.

Paradoxically, McPartland and Harvey (1987) also suggest that sometimes fieldwork is not distinctive enough, with a comment (by Walford) that frequently fieldwork aims only to reinforce theory studied in the classroom leading to no new insights for the student, thus a valuable range of learning opportunities are lost.

Teaching and learning approaches for fieldwork
The teaching and learning approaches adopted for fieldwork will reflect and depend upon :

Aims and Objectives
Thompson (1982) outlines the purposes of geological fieldwork and suggests that objectives should be stated in terms of what students should be able to do at the end of a fieldwork course that they could not do at the beginning. He provides a comprehensive list under four headings: (i) intellectual skills and abilities, (ii) practical skills and abilities, (iii) mastering practical techniques, (iv) interests and attitudes.

The Geological Society (1996) accreditation scheme guidelines on fieldwork takes a different approach with a thematic grouping of aims and objectives. The guidelines identify four types of field-based study: (i) basic geological field-study, (ii) equipment-based field study, (iii) geological mapping, (iv) investigative fieldwork.

This classification is useful for identifying competency in geoscience but it is less applicable in highlighting the broader educational goals which field study might achieve.

Compiani and Carneiro (1996) outline the following key objectives for geological fieldwork :

Teaching approaches
In a paper discussing changing approaches to fieldwork, Hawley (1996) suggests that the traditional approach to fieldwork is the excursion-type 'Cook's Tour', where students listen to the teacher like well-behaved apprentices and passively note down the information. With this approach, explanations are certain and definite, and the emphasis is on description and the acquisition of information. In a critique, Hawley acknowledges there is a place for the 'traditional' approach but also outlines some of the learning limitations evidenced by examination of field notebooks, field worksheets and field reports. These reveal similar accounts across notebooks; the inappropriate use of geological terms; the use of detailed stratigraphical names without any evidence or reasoning; incomplete, incoherent or non-sequential notes; explanations of geology in detail beyond what might be drawn from field observations. He suggests these traits indicate a lack of independent observation, thought and judgement from students. As an alternative teaching approach, Hawley gives an example of what he terms 'investigative fieldwork', but he suggests that in adopting this approach the teacher must assume a greater responsibility for: (i) knowing the objectives of the fieldwork, (ii) making the purpose of the fieldwork explicit to students, (iii) ensuring that students have been taught the necessary skills to carry out the fieldwork, (iv) structuring the learning experiences to allow opportunities for students to work on a variety of scales, analyse geological features, make geological and scientific decisions, record information appropriately and accurately, generate ideas, conjectures and hypotheses and to arrive at interpretations and conclusions, (v) developing a sense of (student) involvement in the fieldwork. He notes that careful planning is necessary for this approach, particularly in setting achievable goals within the time available and for structuring activities which allow a variety of outcomes. Without such careful planning there is a tendency to revert back to a 'traditional' approach (Hawley 1996).

Thompson (1974) outlines four types of geological fieldwork, termed types A to D, which differ in the number of localities visited during the field excursion, from type A which has as many as a dozen sites (probably following a route in a popular guidebook or regional handbook) through to type D which uses a small number of very carefully chosen localities The types also correspondingly differ in the focus of the fieldwork, type A aimed at hastily widening geological knowledge, type B aimed at substantiating and developing theories, type C aimed at developing techniques of investigation, type D aimed at first-hand investigation simulating the work of 'real' geologists through problem-solving. Thompson suggests the teaching approaches that can be employed for fieldwork are :

Compiani and Carneiro (1996) take this analysis further, also proposing that the selection of objectives influences the type of fieldwork excursion and the teaching style adopted. This allows teaching and learning approaches to be classified into five different but associated types. Their classification is summarised as follows :

(i) Motivating field excursions have a main objective to stimulate and generate interest in students. The fieldwork emphasis is on the spectacular and/or good quality, relatively uncomplicated (and plentiful)examples. The teaching style is teacher-centred but essentially unstructured discovery. The teacher provides the background information and the students are frequently left to discover their own examples.

(ii) Illustrative field excursions have a main objective of showing or reinforcing concepts. The fieldwork emphasis is on the recognition of natural features/phenomena and memorisation of the teachers' summaries. The teaching style is teacher-centred and closed, with the teacher as expert, often delivered in the form of a lecturette of structured questions and answers.

(iii) Training field excursions have a main objective of the development and practising of skills and techniques, the collection of data and the operation of instruments and scientific apparatus. The fieldwork emphasis on systematic organisation, classification and scientific logic. The teaching style is teacher-directed and student-centred, with the teacher as demonstrator and guide.

(iv) Inducing field excursions have a main objective of structured problem-solving. The fieldwork emphasis is on the scientific method and logical reasoning, field activities are developed as a direct application of theory. The teaching style is teacher-directed and student-centred, with the teacher predetermining the location(s) of fieldwork and controlling the techniques.

(v) Investigating field excursions have a main objective of stimulating students to carry out their own research. The fieldwork emphasis is on the formation of hypotheses and problem-solving, structuring observations and interpretations, deciding the strategy for investigations. The teaching style is teacher as guide, orienting the work of the students.

A more straightforward classification is put forward by Bland et. Al (1996), who recognise three dominant teaching approaches for fieldwork (i) Look and See, which includes the 'Cook's Tour' approach, with the emphasis on dissemination of knowledge, (ii) Investigative approach, with the emphasis on process, (iii) Enquiry approach, with the emphasis on decision-making and interpretation. These approaches are summarised in Table 1. Gill (this volume) shows how the 'Look and See' approach can be turned into an 'Investigative' approach, arguing for increased educational benefits, whilst Gratton, Gilbertson, and Hogan (this volume) outline an 'Enquiry' approach to a fieldcourse.

Table 1. Three commonly used approaches to teaching fieldwork (after Bland et.al , 1996)

Approach Characteristics Typical Activities/Strategies
Look and See
(teacher as expert)
passive factual
field teaching
(teacher as provider of exercises techniques and equipment)
searching out answers
skills- oriented
model testing
hypothesis testing
(teacher as guide)
student -centred
student -led
formulating hypotheses
testing hypotheses

The effectiveness of different teaching and learning approaches
Many of the benefits of field-based work are assumed. There has been relatively little research to show evidence on the effectiveness of different teaching and learning approaches to fieldwork and how field experiences benefit students. McKenzie et. al. (1986) report on the motivational benefits of fieldwork; Kern and Carpenter (1986) note some cognitive benefits; Orien and Hofstein (1994) assessed the effectiveness of field trips through the use of pre and post field trip surveys, noting that the quality of a field trip is determined by its structure, learning materials, teaching method, and the ability to direct learning to a concrete interaction with the environment. Orien also suggests that field work is most effectively introduced into a curriculum in the early parts of a course, providing a context that can form the basis for future development of abstract concepts (Orien 1993). Given that time available for fieldwork is usually limited and confined to particular periods, the issue here is whether a field trip is best undertaken as a formative encounter, giving geological experiences that can be drawn upon for future learning, or whether it is best used as a summative experience, allowing the 'theoretical' classroom aspects to be pieced together in a real context, and which of these is most effective for learning (see earlier comments in 'Why teach in the field ?'). No doubt both approaches have value, and a balance will benefit students' learning, but more evidence on the specific learning benefits of each approach would give more confidence in knowing when best to adopt a particular approach .

Similarly, research into the learning effectiveness of particular teaching methods and locations would provide useful insights into how students construct meaning from being in the field. For example, Dixon (this volume) describes an underground mapping experience which facilitates students' thinking in three dimensions, where he notes the variable rates of learning amongst students. Some research into what the students observe, in what order, and how they construct that knowledge to arrive at their understanding could help draw out learning principles by which more effective /structured use of the field situation is gained.

This short review has summarised the key thinking that has emerged on teaching and learning approaches to field -based learning in geoscience, emphasising that there should be a balance of different teaching approaches, matched closely to learning objectives. It has also highlighted the need for many other questions to be asked - questions such as 'why is the field experience so important for learning geoscience ?', 'what are the learning processes students go through in field-based learning ?', ' do all students learn from fieldwork in the same way?', 'do different students learn different things from different types of fieldwork ?' , 'what is progression in fieldwork?'. In short, how does fieldwork add to conceptualisation in geoscience? We should seek the answers to these questions out of our duty to make the most of 'being there'

Bland, K., Chambers, B., Donert, K. and Thomas, T. 1996. Fieldwork, pp.165-175 in Bailey, P. and Fox, P. (eds.) Geography Teachers' Handbook, Sheffield : The Geographical Association .

Bloom , B.S. (ed.) 1956. Taxonomy of Educational Objectives : 1. Cognitive Domain. London : Longman

Compiani, M. and Carneiro, C.D.R. 1996. The Didactic Roles Played by Geological Excursions, pp.233-242 in Stow, D.A.V. and McCall, G.H.J.(eds.), Geoscience Education and Training : in schools, Universities, for Industry and Public Awareness : Rotterdam : A.A. Balkema.

Coorey, P.G. 1992. Fieldwork : an essential component of geoscience education and training, Episodes, 14 (2), 337-340.

Geological Society 1996. Accreditation Scheme for First Degree Courses in Geoscience. London : The Geological Society.

Gold, J.R., Jenkins, A., Lee, R., Monk, J.R., Riley, J., Shepherd, I.D.H. and Unwin, D.J. 1991. Teaching Geography in Higher Education : a manual of good practice. Oxford : Basil Blackwell, Institute of British Geographers Special publication 24.

Falk, J.H., Martin, W.W. and Balling , J.D. 1978. The novel field trip phenomenon : adjustment to novel settings interferes with task learning. Journal of Research in Science Teaching 15, 127-134.

Hawley, D. 1993 Field 'Sketches' : Purpose, Principles and Practice. Teaching Earth Sciences 18 (2), 60-62.

Hawley, D. 1996. Changing approaches to teaching Earth-science fieldwork. pp. 243-253 in Stow, D.A.V. and McCall, G.H.J. (eds.), Geoscience Education and Training : in schools, Universities, for Industry and Public Awareness : Rotterdam : A.A. Balkema

Keller, W.D. 1963. Fieldwork : our scientific birthright . Journal of Geological Education 11, 119-123

Kern, E.L. and Carpenter, J.R. 1986. Effect of field activities on student learning . Journal of Geological Education, 34, 180-183.

Koran, J.J. and Baker, S.D. 1979. Evaluating the effectiveness of field experiences, in Rowe, M.B. (ed.) What Research Says to the Science Teacher . Washington D.C. : National Science Teachers' Association.

McKenzie, D.G., Utgard, R.O. and Lisowski, M. 1986. The importance of field trips : a geological example. Journal of College Science Teaching, September , 17-21.

McPartland, M. and Harvey, P. 1987. A Question of Fieldwork. Teaching Geography, 12 (4), 162-164.

Lonergan, N. and Andresen, L.W. 1988. Field-based Education : Some Theoretical Considerations. Higher Education Research and Development, 7(1), 63-77.

Lusty, M.G.F. 1973. The place of fieldwork in geology. Geology 5, 85-87.

Orien , N. 1993. A model for the development and implementation of field trips as an integral part of the science curriculum. School Science and Mathematics 93, 325-331.

Orien, N. and Hofstein, A. 1994. Factors that influence learning during a scientific fieldtrip in a natural environment. Journal of Research in Science Teaching 31, 1097-1119.

Thompson, D.B. 1974. Types of Geological Fieldwork in Relation to the Objectives of Teaching Science. Geology 6, 52-61.

Thompson, D.B. 1982. On discerning the purposes of Geological Fieldwork. Geology Teaching 7 (2), 59-65.

Smith . A.J. 1996. Fieldwork in crisis : Current and future provision, pp. 581-587 in Stow, D.A.V. and McCall, G.H.J. (eds.), Geoscience Education and Training : in schools, Universities, for Industry and Public Awareness : Rotterdam : A.A. Balkema.

Tranter, P.J. 1988. Enhancing the value of field trips in tertiary education . Working paper 1988/2, Department of Geography and Oceanography. Australian Defence Force Academy, Canberra.

Fieldwork | Good Practice Keywords | Authors | Titles | Institutions | Home

Key Skills And Geosciences Fieldwork :
Inseparable Partners in a Total Learning Environment.

Neil Thomas
Project leader of the UK Earth Sciences Personal & Career Development Network,
Kingston University, School of Geological Sciences, Kingston-upon-Thames, KT1 2EE.

One of the most obvious differences between the Geosciences and many other discipline areas is the heavy emphasis on fieldwork. A huge proportion of most departmental budgets is spent on putting students through the trials and tribulations of locating, describing and identifying rocks, structures and other features in the natural laboratory that exists around us. Thus fieldwork represents a fundamental part of our service which we should use to its full potential.

Degree courses are increasingly being marketed in terms of the cocktail of skills (rather than just the knowledge) they offer students a chance to develop. These skills have been categorised by the Dearing Review into:

The range of technical (geoscientific) knowledge that is developed during field courses is well documented and explicit to the training of students who participate in such courses. However, the excellent opportunities to develop a variety of key skills during normal fieldwork activities is not always made clear to students. The very process of fieldwork mentioned earlier: locating, describing and identifying provides students with the forum to master each of the three skills categories outlined above. In the wider sense, fieldwork provides a natural and ideal opportunity for key skills development which is absent from many other degree programmes.

The main barrier to skills development on fieldwork is obvious: many staff are unwilling to include what they see as 'non-core activities'. There is a misconception that “something extra and different” has to be done to include skills development in the fieldwork programme. Inevitably, the reaction is to return to the safety of what staff know best - the rocks! The truth of the matter is that many staff actually include skills development, albeit often implicitly, in fieldwork training. How many times have we asked students to “Describe this outcrop” or “What observations can you make from the top of this hill?” etc.. This type of question requires students to use their skills in combination with their knowledge in order to give a reasoned answer. There really is nothing mysterious about skills development; the crucial aspect that many academics currently lack is the desire to make the process an explicit part of the training and therefore encourage the embedding of skills development successfully into departmental culture. Until this is overcome, students and staff will continue to see skills development as a threat to 'core activities'. The reality is - what can be more of a core activity than asking students to solve a geological problem in the field by planning a survey, organising a team to conduct the survey, collecting results, observing variations in the results as they collect them, processing and interpreting the results and communicating their findings in the form of a report and an oral presentation? This scenario develops skills in all three of Dearing's categories in addition to enhancing students' subject knowledge and presents a strong case for fieldwork as a 'total learning environment.

The joint organisation of this symposium by the Network and Staff Development team highlights the importance of both projects working together to help staff design and deliver innovative fieldwork programmes to encourage a broad educational experience and add value to the curriculum and enhance student development.

I have recently heard an argument that has convinced me of the way forward. During a meeting designed to help curriculum planners integrate the Dearing recommendations into their degree programmes, the majority of presentations were given by educationalists and careers advisors. Almost without exception, their approach was to blame the (at best) ambivalent and (at worst) derisory attitude of staff towards 'transferable skills'. After listening patiently to the talks an academic from a red-brick university stood up and completely turned the tables. His argument was that the 'transferable skills' concept has been around for almost fifteen years yet the educationalists and other supporters have still failed to convince the academics of the worth of considering them as 'core business'. Didn't they ever consider that this was down to the fact that the packaging of the concept has been inappropriate? What does your average academic prefer to spend most time doing? Answer: research. What then will academics relate to most? Answer: research. How then should we package 'skills' development in our degree programmes to enhance staff interest? Answer: through the key skills used in research - namely the subject specific and cognitive skills of Dearing rather than the transferable skills. The reality is that all the skills we regard as 'transferable' fall naturally into the other two categories anyway and, therefore, do not warrant a separate category.

Clearly, this approach will not provide an immediate solution but the basic argument is sound. It is the belief of the organisers of this symposium that fieldwork provides an ideal learning environment for moulding this new approach to skills development. We all realise that these skills are transferable and that employers value them but it is time that we rescued control of the concept of skills development from the educationalists. We are not talking about some kind of anti-social disease forced upon us by other people but something which adds true value to the learning experience we offer our students! Whereas knowledge is central to all science, skills are the real future of undergraduate education but we should not make the mistake of continuing to package our courses around ideas that are alien to the people that will deliver them. Skills development has always been, and always will be, 'core business' for Geoscience educators and fieldwork is one of the best ways in which to emphasise this to ourselves and, more importantly, our students. Some of the papers in this volume describe excellent examples of a 'total learning environment' approach to fieldwork. We hope they will be an inspiration to others.

Fieldwork | Good Practice Keywords | Authors | Titles | Institutions | Home

A Student's First Encounter with Geoscience Fieldwork - Making it an Effective Learning Experience.

Robin Gill
Department of Geology, Royal Holloway, University of London, Egham TW20 0EX

Much hinges on ensuring that a student's initial introduction to geological fieldwork is a rewarding and formative experience. This paper outlines a structured approach used at Royal Holloway on a field trip organised for all incoming students 2-3 weeks after their arrival. The student's agenda is spelled out explicitly through the medium of a pre-printed field 'Workbook', in which each student records their data. The learning targets include a range of key field skills: elementary mapping, making and recording basic structural measurements, describing lithologies, sketching and interpreting relationships, plotting data, inferring sequences of events. The workbook ensures clarity in defining tasks, allows students to appreciate their purpose, context and outcome, defines clear assessment objectives, and encourages rapid marking and clear formative feedback.

Most HE Geoscience departments would agree that it is desirable to expose every student, particularly those with no previous experience of geology, to fieldwork at the earliest opportunity in their undergraduate career. One cannot realistically expect students to embrace the significance of dipping beds and unconformities, for example, or cope with map interpretation, analysis of faults and folds and petrographic definitions of rock types unless the phenomena have been seen, or skills learned, in a field context first.

How can one ensure that every incoming student gains the maximum learning benefit from their first experience of fieldwork? This article describes one way of addressing this question that we have found to be successful at Royal Holloway over the last five years. I shall refer for illustration to a 3-day field trip to Devon that every incoming geoscience student takes part in within three weeks of arriving at Royal Holloway, but the approach could readily be adapted to serve any field area that illustrates a sufficiently wide range of geological phenomena.

Shortcomings Of The Stereotype Fieldtrip Strategy
Most teachers of geology can recall one or two less-than-happy experiences of traditional field trips: you are taken to various localities, some with excellent things to see, you listen to a lecturer expounding what one is supposed to see, make some measurements and record them in your notebook, arrive at no particular interpretative outcome that you have worked out for yourself, see skills demonstrated but never really get the hang of it yourself, write (say) a 2000-word field report in the weeks following the trip (for example on the 'Geological evolution of SW England'), and put the whole episode behind you.

One can distil a number of unsatisfactory aspects from such recollections, however stereotyped they may seem:

Field notebook assessment
It is of course much more meaningful to assess (and to base feedback upon) the student's field notebook, as an indication of their work in the field. But:

The Royal Holloway 'Devon Workbook'
One wants every student's initial introduction to geological fieldwork to be enjoyable, rewarding and formative. I suggest that every first-year student is entitled to expect:

For the last six years Royal Holloway has sought to satisfy these needs by taking a highly structured approach to learning on a field trip organised for all incoming students 2-3 weeks after their arrival. The student's agenda is spelled out explicitly through the medium of a 12-page pre-printed field 'Workbook' (in our case produced using Pagemaker and a laser printer, but substituting scissors and paste will not diminish the educational value) in which each student also records their data in the field. The learning targets include a range of key field skills: elementary mapping, making and recording basic structural measurements, describing lithologies and inferring environments and processes, sketching and interpreting relationships, plotting data, inferring sequences of events and relative ages. The style and content of the workbook are illustrated in Figs 1-6. The completed workbook is collected in for marking at 9.00 am on the morning following the field trip, to ensure that what is assessed is the student's own field observations unenhanced by later library work or collusion. The student also receives an 8-page factual handout with itinerary, relevant location maps, illustrative cartoons and a glossary of terms.

Figure 1 Click icon to see Figure 1:Page 1 of the workbook shows preparatory work carried out in advance of the trip: setting the compass for magnetic declination, measuring the map scale, and extracting a grid reference. The initial field exercises consist of lithological description and interpreting the evidence for a period of deformation.

Figure 2 Click icon to see: Figure 2: Hope's Nose is an ideal place for developing accurate location skills - 3 islands are available on which to base multiple bearings. One can test the inferred map location by seeing if it is consistent with the contours.

Figure 3 Click icon to see: Figure 3: This page illustrates the prompts for measuring planar and linear structures, and describing and interpreting, e.g., a fold axis.

Figure 4 Click icon to see: Figure 4: Elementary mapping. About 500m of coastline is covered in 4-5 hours. Students begin to appreciate the difference between a field sheet and a published geological map.

The benefits of using this workbook approach are that it:

Figure 5 Click icon to see: Figure 5: A field sketch as a scientific document. This exercise tests not only drawing skills (which vary widely) but also the student's grasp of what is going on - in this case how more and less competent beds behave during deformation.

Figure 6 Click icon to see: Figure 6: Description of the mineralogy of, and the structures in, a well exposed, granite outcrop - an opportunity to infer and interpret a sequence of events.

Each student uses a conventional field notebook for observations not specified in the workbook and for writing down any contextual notes provided by the leader, and this can also be discussed with the student's tutor when the marked workbook is returned a few weeks after the trip.

No research has been carried out on the effectiveness of this approach to field teaching compared to a more traditional style, but subjective indications are wholly positive. The level of student engagement in the field is invariably high, and students continue to work hard (inking and colouring field maps, plotting and interpreting imbrication data, etc.) through the nightly evening sessions, to the extent that some even have to be reminded that the bar closes at 11.00 pm! Some lecturer colleagues initially argued, when the workbook was trialed, that students should be 'learning to use a real notebook from Day 1', but the workbook has now become accepted as a valid vehicle for the learning of basic field skills early in the student's career that promotes better notebook technique. Educationalists will recognise a parallel with the 'zone of proximal development' during which, to quote Vygotsky, 'what the student can do today with help (i.e. supported by the prompts in the workbook), he or she can accomplish by themselves tomorrow'.

There is no suggestion that this approach would be appropriate for more advanced stages in the student's field training.

Fieldwork | Good Practice Keywords | Authors | Titles | Institutions | Home

Skills Development via Fieldwork: The Malta Experience.

John Grattan*, David D. Gilbertson* & Jennifer Horgan**
*The Institute of Geography and Earth Sciences, ** Staff Development. The University of Wales, Aberystwyth, Aberystwyth, SY23 3DB
Author for correspondence jpg@aber.ac.uk

This paper presents the result of a skills survey conducted both before and immediately after a field course in Malta organized by the institute of Geography and Earth Sciences at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth. The field course emphasizes the development of key skills rather than delivering instruction in the use and practice of particular techniques, and encourages student involvement via a balance of formative and summative assessment and by challenging the student to respond in a positive and professional rather than passive manner. The results of the survey suggest that the field course is extremely successful and meets its objective of developing essential key skills

In recent years the role of fieldwork in UK Higher Education has been the focus of a growing debate (Kent et al., 1997; Hawley, 1996) which has explored the role and purpose of fieldwork in the modern university curriculum (Higgitt, 1996). This debate has taken place against a background of both increasing financial pressure, which has led to university administrators to question the educational value of fieldwork in relation to its cost, and a detailed review by the Government of the purpose and function of UK Higher Education and its wider role in society. The publication of the Dearing Report in 1997 has added further to this debate. A clear emphasis in the Dearing report is placed on skills development; Recommendation 21 of this report lays emphasis on the need for a graduate to possess:

Against this background "traditional" earth science fieldwork looks increasingly unsustainable and vulnerable. The common approach adopted, and one which most practitioners have experienced can be easily summarized:
"The dominant style of fieldwork which has developed is the excursion-type, commonly called the "Cook's Tour" which is characterized by a didactic/instructive teaching approach with passive student interaction" (Hawley, 1996, p243). Such an approach fails to grasp the opportunity presented by fieldwork to develop key skills in an exciting and dynamic manner, and to secure a place for the taught field course in the modern geography curriculum.

This paper describes the approach to field teaching adopted in the Institute of Geography and Earth Sciences, at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth. The field course reviewed has been devised to simulate as far as possible the experience of a researcher going into the field and to develop a wide range of essential skills which the students will require for their independent research project. It is these skills, reviewed below, which are recognized by employers and independent reviewers (Jenkins and Pepper, 1987) as those which it is essential that graduates possess.

Essential Skills
The aims and objectives of the Malta Field Course are simply stated:
Educational goals:

Professional goals:
To engender a positive and professional attitude in the students; to challenge their work habits and redefine the concept of "hard work"; to boost their confidence in their skills as geographers; to challenge them to operate and think as geographers in a wide variety of situations.

To achieve these goals the field course is divided into two sections. The first, lasting three days is essentially staff-led and introduces the students to most of the geographical issues they may encounter in the islands of Malta. The second, again lasting 3 days, is essentially student-led when the students devise, initiate and complete a field-work project.

In detail, the staff-led section of the field course is intensive and far from the traditional Cook's Tour and aims to simulate the information gathering process that a field researcher would need to undertake prior to conducting a research project. Typical days in this part of the field course are described in detail in Table One. Each day is focused around a particular theme which is illustrated by each of the sites we visit. The fundamental difference between this approach and the Cook's Tour is what happens at each venue visited. At each stop the students are broken down into groups and briefed to produce a report on a particular aspect of the venue by a specified time, usually within 1-2 hours.

When the students are reassembled a number of groups are chosen to present their findings, after which the teaching team lead a brief debate which draws together the different themes explored and skills developed. The tasks which are set are very wide ranging and in a typical day will require the use of most of the key skills we have as our objectives. These can include, interviewing people, participant observation, surveying and laying out field trails amongst many others. Each of these days is rounded off with a lecture, by a Maltese expert with an intimate knowledge of that day's theme. Speakers have included academics, planners and senior top servants. On return to our base, students are required to write up their field notebooks and write a reflective essay on each day's theme (assessment is discussed in detail below).

If we have been successful, by the evening of day 3 the students are brimful of ideas for a project of their own. Project choice and planning involves some staff participation, but their role is to facilitate and assess safety issues rather than direct student choice. Typically each student will suggest 3 project ideas in a quick-fire brainstorming session. Groups are then identified who have interests in related areas, and project plans are devised. For the following three days the students actively conduct their research project in the field. Staff are available to discuss and advise each evening and we attempt to meet each group in the field at least once.

The conclusion of the field course is marked by a series of seminar presentations in which each project group presents the results of its project days.

Why Use Malta?
There are several reasons in choosing Malta as a field course destination, not least of which is the cost. Malta is amongst the cheapest package destinations in the Mediterranean. In addition the archipelago possesses:

Malta is therefore a very stimulating environment in which to conduct geographical fieldwork.

Table 1 Click icon to see: Table 1. Extracts from the field course handbook.

The assessment regime is complex but designed to take into account the development of the students' confidence and to actually assess the skills we aim to teach. Assessment therefore aims to take into account Kolb's (1984) learning cycle and to be summative and formative at the appropriate stages. In addition we recognize that students are increasingly assessment driven (Gibbs & Habeshaw, 1989) and the assessment regime is designed to encourage students to make an effort across the whole spectrum of activities they participate in whilst on the field course.

  1. Reflective essays submitted at the end of days 1-3. Weighted 10%. Formative assessment, to encourage reflective observation of the day's experiences.
  2. Field note book assessed after day 3. Weighted 10%. Formative assessment, to encourage active upkeep of a field note book and deliver positive criticism in the field.
  3. Seminar presentation in Malta. Weighted 10%. Formative assessment, to encourage synthesis of information and communication skills.
  4. Field note book written up and illustrated after return to UK. Weighted 20%. Summative assessment, to encourage good work practices and reward effort.
  5. Project: marked either as a group or each individual effort. Weighted 50%. Summative assessment, to assess the result of 3 days independent fieldwork.
  6. Poster or WWW page. Weighted 10%. Formative Assessment, to encourage, synthesis of information, communication skills and, potentially, IT skills.

In addition to the above, impromptu sessions are organized in the field where students, normally in groups are presented with a problem and asked to devise a solution. These solutions are then "assessed" by the entire group and the most reasonable is awarded a bottle of wine (figure 1).

Figure 1 Click on icon to see: Figure 1: Representatives of a number of groups present their hypotheses to explain the formation of the Maltese "cart ruts". This session takes place in a cave and the group which advanced the most popular hypothesis is awarded a bottle of wine.

In the context of traditional approaches to field course teaching, the strategy outlined above involves a degree of risk. Risk for the course leader in that students are out of sight, working under their own initiative, gathering information and developing skills, rather than safely gathered around taking notes. Risk for the student in that they must be actively engaged and involved and cannot take refuge in passive participation. In a properly designed field course, with clear aims and objectives these risks can be minimized and the results magnified.

We had felt that the field courses were successful in engendering skills and thus in meeting their fundamental aims and objectives, but this was based on the largely anecdotal observations and comments of the staff involved. With this in mind a detailed survey of the field course was conducted by the Staff Development Unit in 1997. The survey focused on the success or otherwise of the field course in developing the key skills outlined above. The students were asked to assess their own ability in each skill on a five point scale, where one was poor and five was excellent. Students were surveyed at the airport before we left Britain, and before we left Malta for the return flight.

The results of the survey are presented in Figures 2A and 2B and confirm our perception that the Malta field course and the approach adopted is successful. A considerable improvement is apparent in the pre- and post-field course survey with the exception of "Making Field sketches", we shall review how we approach this skill. In all other cases the improvement in skills which is perceived by the students is readily apparent. Pre and post field course surveys are in most cases distinctly skewed. Pre-field course surveys are clustered between 1-3 whereas post field course surveys are clustered between 3-5. Particularly notable improvements are apparent in data acquisition, seminar presentation skills, hypothesis testing, observation and group skills.

The approach adopted in the Malta field course at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth is to expose students to real geographical problems and to challenge them to respond in a meaningful and dynamic manner. This approach may be perceived as having inherent risks for the staff involved, mainly those concerned with the managing and monitoring student activity, a perception which has led to the continued survival and even dominance of the Cook's Tour approach. However, in a field course which is well designed, where assessment is both formative and summative and where students are exposed to real problems and challenged to behave and perform in a professional manner the risks outlined above are minimal and the rewards both for staff and students are considerable.

Figure 2A Click icon to see: Figure 2A: Results of the Skills Survey. Shaded bar = before, Dark Bar = after.

Figure 2B Click icon to see: Figure 2B: Results of the Skills Survey. Shaded bar = before, Dark Bar = after


Dearing R, 1997. National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education.

Gibbs, G. & Habeshaw, T. 1989. Preparing to teach: an introduction to effective teaching in Higher education. Bristol. Technical and Educational Services Ltd.

Hawley, D. 1996. Changing approaches to teaching Earth Science fieldwork. Geoscience Education and Training. 19, 243-253.

Her Majesty's Inspectorate. 1992. A survey of Geography in Fieldwork in degree courses. Stanmore. Department of Education and Science.

Higgitt, M. 1996. Addressing the new agenda for fieldwork in Higher Education. Journal of Geography in Higher Education. 20, 391-398

Jenkins, A. & Pepper, D. 1987. Enhancing Employability and educational opportunity. Occasional Paper 27. Birmingham. Standing Committee on Educational development.

Kent, M., Gilbertson, D.D., Hunt, C.O. 1997. Fieldwork in Geography teaching: a critical review of the literature and approaches. Journal of Geography in Higher Education. 21, 313-330

Kolb, D. 1984. Experiential learning: experience as the source of learning and development. London. Prentice Hall.

Fieldwork | Good Practice Keywords | Authors | Titles | Institutions | Home

Detailed Underground Mapping in a Mine - Learning to Think in Three Dimensions.

Colin Dixon
Department of Geology, Imperial College, London

Part of a 2nd year Field Techniques course is a half-day exercise to make a cross-section on a scale of 1:50 of a dilated fault zone exposed in an old mineworking. The work is done by a team of five and the result is assessed as a team. Success depends on accurate observation and recording by each member of the team and achieving a team consensus on the interpretation. The exercise reuires a basic knowledge of coordinate geometry and simple survey techniques and the ability to visualise the geology in three dimensions. Most students gain an insight into three dimensional thinking in this exercise and learn a great deal about working in a team in a very short time period.

Mapping in mineworkings, both surface and underground, has considerable advantages in enabling the student to appreciate the three-dimensional nature of geology. It complements the study of maps and seismic sections by being at a more detailed scale and giving hands-on (or eyes-on) access to the rocks and structures.

Background Mapping in mineworkings, both surface and underground, has considerable advantages in enabling the student to appreciate the three-dimensional nature of geology. It complements the study of maps and seismic sections by being at a more detailed scale and giving hands-on (or eyes-on) access to the rocks and structures.

Background Mapping in mineworkings, both surface and underground, has considerable advantages in enabling the student to appreciate the three-dimensional nature of geology. It complements the study of maps and seismic sections by being at a more detailed scale and giving hands-on (or eyes-on) access to the rocks and structures.

The Field Area
The site currently in use is the Gillfield Level of Sunnyside Mine, part of the Greenhow Mining district in Yorkshire. Access to the level is leased to the University of Leeds and used by the Department of Mining and Minerals Science. It is used by Imperial College under an agreement with the owners and Leeds.

The galena/fluorite vein district at Greenhow has a long history and is no longer worked but the early miners left some remarkable workings which remain accessible today. The vein district is in an interesting geological environment. The veins are dilated faults which cut Dinantian carbonate rocks within one to two kilometres of the northern branch of the Craven Fault. Probably associated with the long history of movements on this fault, the limestones were first deformed into a series of anticlinal dome structures. Later, brittle deformation took place with the formation of faults with a complex set of movements. Some of these faults were dilated by the movements allowing the ingress of solutions which filled the spaces with calcite, fluorite, galena and a number of minor minerals.

The work-area of the exercise described, is in a series of steep-dipping and flat, bedding-parallel veins, in a bituminous limestone.

The Task
Students work in teams of four or five. The teams select themselves and live together, thus the make up of the teams is social rather than related to geological interest or ability. The team is given a map and section (fig 1) which shows only lines on the National Grid and the locations of a number of stations which have been surveyed on the Grid. The task is to observe and record the geology in a vertical plane which passes north-south through the mineworkings at an easting shown on the map. There are four exposed parts of the section (see Figs.2 & 3) which cannot be seen from each other and thus simple surveying methods are necessary to locate the position of the section in the workings (see Appendix I). The team is asked to produce an interpretation of the geology on the section. The scale is 1:50 and the section is only 10m by 10m.

Figure 1 Click icon to see Figure 1: The worksheet - the actual size is A2.

Figure 2 Click icon to see Figure 2: Plan showing the mineworkings near the plane of the section.

Figure 3 Click icon to see Figure 3: Section through the mineworkings along 411 767.94 east.

Some three months before this exercise, all students will have taken part in a short field and drawing office based course, part of which is to help them to understand national geodetic surveys and grids. This course includes fieldwork to locate a geological survey on the UK National Grid to the accuracy which is possible with an electronic 'total station'. The day before the exercise described here, the team will have been in the mine and will have made a plan of the geology on a scale of 1:100. The exercise starts with a 30 to 50 minute briefing on the surface. This time is necessary to ensure that all members of the group understand the geometry of the work area and the survey techniques needed. It is at this stage that one discovers how few students really understand trigonometry and co-ordinate geometry.

Field work
The first step is to get the team to calibrate their magnetic compasses for local magnetic variation using two of the surveyed stations. They then use a simple compass/clinometer survey method to locate the position of the vertical section plane in the various mineworkings; this requires the collaboration of the whole team. Individual members of the team then make a drawing of the geology in the plane of the section in one of the workings, with measurements of the apparent dips of the various structures seen, including some limited projection onto the plane of section from a few metres on either side. The positions of the points of observation are calculated and plotted on the section and the geological detail drawn in. The team is encouraged to make the interpretation while in the mine when there is still a chance to check any inconsistencies. A good team can do the basic fieldwork in about two to two and a half hours. The supervisor plays a relatively passive roll of waiting for questions to be asked and ensuring that the students work safely.

Ideally, the team should have agreed their interpretation of the geology underground so that the only follow-up is inking in the section, adding colour and the key to symbols. In practice few teams get this far and they tend to spend the following evening discussing the interpretation. The completed section has to be handed in at the end of the course along with the results of all the other exercises.

The resulting sections are very variable for a number of reasons. Amongst others, the reasons for success or failure, include ability in accurate observation and recording, ability to work as a team, a sense of orientation underground, an understanding of the geometry of the situation and ability to understand the three-dimensional geology of the work area.

Accuracy of observation and recording is variable. Perhaps one third of students record their observations the wrong way round because they become disoriented or their recording is insufficiently clear for others in the team to understand. Even if the students are told several times "look at your compass and find north" they still get disoriented. It is surprising that there is such a high proportion of the 18+ age group who succeed in finding north and then get east and west mixed up. It is noticeable that students with some experience at sea, have a much greater instinctive understanding of which way is west.

Teamwork is vital. It is noticeable that the best results come from one of two kinds of team. The first is the kind where there is a good 'team spirit' and everybody fits into a part of the task almost by instinct. For some reason, teams with a high proportion of women often fit into this category. The second kind is the team with a natural leader (usually male) who is willing to lead and the others are willing to follow. However, there are cases of teams with a natural leader who leads them into disaster. Teams with a natural leader have to be watched by the supervisor because there is a danger that those who are willing to follow learn little. What is very noticeable with almost all teams, is that in the space of two hours, the relationship between the members changes for the better.

The rate at which students gain an understanding of geology in three-dimensions is well known to be very variable. This exercise is particularly valuable for the students because it enables them to identify for themselves their own level of competence through contact with other members of the team who are faster or slower at gaining such understanding. Supervising staff can identify the rate at which the students is gaining understanding and can feed this information back to colleagues.

The completed sections are marked by two examiners for geological accuracy, integrity of interpretation and quality of presentation. The mark applies to the whole team. Each student is examined orally by two examiners on the work of the team in which she/he worked and is given a mark on the examiners' assessment of the students understanding of the results of the work. At least one question will relate to the vertical section exercise. The resulting student mark (team + individual) is but a small part of the 2nd year total; it is the personal learning experience whilst in the field, working in a team, which counts for much more.

Detailed mapping in an underground mineworking is a unique experience of being able to see geological structures in true 3-D. Working in teams is an educative experience allowing the student to learn by reaction with colleagues. Such work requires high staff/student ratios; 1:5 for a relatively short period of time. It also requires access to safe mineworkings which is beginning to pose a problem. It is too easy for university administrators to question the need for work in mines and to make life easy by not becoming involved in the complexities of the Mines and Quarries Acts.

The Department of Geology, Imperial College, is grateful to the University of Leeds for the co-operation which makes this part of the field course possible. My thanks to Paul Garrard for helpful suggestions.

Three-Dimensional Positional Location in Underground Mineworkings

The method used to locate the position of a vertical plane of section in the Gillfield Level exercise is a modification of the traditional "miner's dial" method. The survey stations are bolts drilled into the roof and their National Grid co-ordinates are established by theodolite traversing. On the attached diagram, the co-ordinates of a survey station, are the easting (e0), northing (n0) and altitude (a0). A plumb-line is hung from the station and a rope stretched taut from the plumb-bob to a point judged to be beyond the line of section. A compass and clinometer are used to measure the bearing (Ø) and inclination (a) of the rope. If the distance is not too long (say <10 m) the rope can be taken as a straight-line. The position of the point in the mineworking, on the line of section, can be found by calculating the slope distance (S) along the rope (see equations on the diagram). The geological observations are then made at the measured point. In this case the easting (es) of the section-line is given, so the northing (ns) and altitude (as) of the point can be calculated and plotted using the equations shown on the diagram.

Appendix Figure Click icon to see Appendix Figure - see text for explanation

Fieldwork | Good Practice Keywords | Authors | Titles | Institutions | Home

The Expedition Approach to Independent Fieldwork

David Petley
Department of Geology, University of Portsmouth, Burnaby Building, Burnaby Road, Portsmouth PO1 3QL

One of the best-established traditions of geology degree programmes is the requirement for students to undertake independent fieldwork. In many cases this consists of a mapping project but, alternatively, it may comprise a scientific investigation using a 'research' approach. This paper reviews the advantages and disadvantages of encouraging groups of students to complete such field work in locations outside Europe without supervision. The merits of such an approach are outlined and the potential hazards and pitfalls are discussed. Finally a case-study of a recent field trip to Taiwan undertaken by a group of geology students is described.

The Expedition Approach
This paper deals with the expedition approach to non-supervised fieldwork. This is not a new approach but it is one that the geological community has possibly under-utilised despite the many advantages that it has to offer. In the expedition approach, small groups of students are encouraged to plan and undertake fieldwork in relatively-remote locations outside Europe. To complete such a field expedition the group of students will have to undertake background research into the proposed field area, plan the logistics including accommodation and transportation, gain the relevant permissions, raise the required funds, plan and execute the fieldwork and record and document the research that they have undertaken. Whilst this may be the case for independent fieldwork undertaken closer to home, such a field expedition will require very much more complex and detailed planning. Thus, although each student will complete an independent project, they will have to work as a coherent and effective team to achieve their aims.

This approach is widely used in geography departments, and is actively encouraged by their professional body, the Royal Geographical Society / Institute of British Geographers, which provides a substantial sum of money to support expeditions. In addition it runs the extremely useful Expedition Advisory Centre (EAC), which exists to provide advice and assistance on all aspects of expedition planning. Whilst the organisation exists primarily to support expeditions related to geography, those undertaken by geologists are not precluded from utilising the resources of the EAC. Sadly similar levels of support for such groups do not appear to be available from similar organisations in geology.

Advantages of the Expedition Approach
There are many sound advantages to the expedition approach, both in terms of enhancing the educational experience and of encouraging personal development. There is a well-known maxim that the best geologist is the one that has seen the most rocks. Although this is over-simplistic it has some value, and there is undoubtedly a great advantage in encouraging students to work in different terrains with a different suite of rocks. This is especially true for geologists undergoing training in the UK which, although blessed with a remarkable array of rock types, is relatively stable with low rates of many processes. Thus, although students see a wide range of rock types, they may fail to get an appreciation of the dynamic nature of for example, neotectonic terrains. Encouraging students to work in, for instance, tectonically-active areas or those with high rates of erosion, may provide an extra appreciation of the nature of geologic processes.

Normally, an expedition will require a minimum of six months to plan, a period that may be extended significantly if fund-raising is required. This long lead-in period will force the group of students to plan their projects in detail at an early stage; in a three year degree where the fieldwork is completed in the summer vacation between the second and third years this may mean that initial planning for the fieldwork will need to occur early in the second year. This encourages an organised and structured approach to the fieldwork, although greater input may be needed from staff members due to the relative inexperience of the students at this early stage. Additionally the lack of prior knowledge of the study area may encourage greater use of the literature, which might be taken for granted in the planning stages of a project undertaken in the UK. Finally the requirements laid down by potential sources of funding frequently include details of risk-assessment, first aid cover and contingency plans, items to which students tend to pay insufficient attention.

The expedition approach also has benefits in terms of the acquisition of transferable skills and in personal development. As outlined above, the planning of expeditions requires considerable planning. The students will need to communicate with outside agencies, which will normally include foreign embassies, academic institutions or other sources of information, and potential sources of funding, including charities, trust funds and corporate sponsors. The students will need to use a range of communication methods, including telephone, letters, faxes and E-mail. As the students will normally plan the expedition in their second year they may develop and use these skills earlier than other students. Of course there may also be a considerable advantage to the student in developing the contacts, who may be useful sources of information (and opportunities) later in their career. For this reason the students should be encouraged to maintain links with organisations that have provided information or support.

In higher education there is an increased emphasis on the acquisition of skills in teamworking. The organisation of an expedition could be seen to be the ultimate development of this, whereby the students effectively undertake a group project with a duration of up to two years. During such an exercise the group will need to form and develop; at times this can be a difficult or even traumatic experience, and staff should be willing to provide support to encourage the development of a strong, coherent unit. Students should be aware that team dynamics change through time and that successful team work requires input from all team members. For many students the expedition will present their first experience of long-term team work, and the development and change of group dynamics will be a constructive experience. To gain maximum experience from the process, and to minimise the stress levels, the students should be encouraged to understand the processes of team development and to reflect frequently upon events.

Clearly the student will usually benefit from the cultural aspects of expedition fieldwork; this will be assisted if the group can be encouraged to work closely with citizens of the destination country. Such alliances have a range of benefits, including the avoidance of an imperialistic image, access to local knowledge and the mutual benefits of cultural interchange. However co-operation of this type can be difficult to arrange and students should be prepared for the possibility that planned local contacts will not materialise or that, due to differences in approach and/or culture, co-operative fieldwork may not be a success.

The final benefit to the student may be a long-term one; the organisation of an expedition reflects well on the personality and skills of the students, and will be attractive to potential employers. Students should be encouraged to utilise the skills and experiences gained from such fieldwork in the search for employment upon graduation. Indeed the C-V can be arranged to emphasise not just the direct benefits of the expedition but also to emphasise the other transferable skills that were needed in the organisation and execution of the expedition.

It is important to stress that, although the students will require more input at an early stage than groups undertaking projects in more conventional areas, the organisation of a successful expedition has profound advantages for the host geoscience department. These include the extra publicity that students may gain, the potential use of these students during open days and in literature for the recruitment of students, and the development of contacts with external organisations via the student group. It is rare for a well-organised expedition to reflect badly upon the host department.

Disadvantages Of The 'Expedition' Approach To Independent Fieldwork
Although there are clearly a multitude of advantages to the expedition approach to fieldwork, there are also some disadvantages and problems which should not be ignored. Perhaps the most important of these is the issue of safety in the field. Whilst all independent fieldwork carries an element of risk, this may be magnified when students are working in unfamiliar terrain, a different climate to that which they are familiar, and / or an environment with active surface processes. A great deal of planning is needed to ensure that the students are well-prepared for the terrain in which they will be working, and in most cases the students will need more guidance than those working in environments closer to home. The students must be encouraged to determine the nature of the environment prior to travelling, and to create a viable and safe fieldwork plan based on reasonable risk assessments. Students must also be encouraged to plan for the eventuality of an accident, and to determine how they would move an injured person to a hospital as quickly and safely as possible. Of course it goes without saying that the students must have extensive, high quality insurance cover. A related issue is that of safety from crime; students must ensure that it is safe to undertake fieldwork in the host country; for example fieldwork in a country such as Colombia should be discouraged.

One of the greatest fears of many student groups that are planning foreign fieldwork is the concern that they will either reach the area and find that it is unsuitable for the planned project or that when they return to the UK they will discover that they do not have vital data. This is a reasonable concern and, despite the awareness that most students have of these problems, they tend to occur far too regularly. They can generally be minimised with a two-part strategy. First the group should be encouraged to discover as much information as possible about the study area. This must extend far beyond the use of guide books and tourist information, and will necessitate communication with people who have worked in that terrain. Specialist information may be required, such as the amount of outcrop. This will ensure that the students will be prepared for the conditions at the destination, and will allow them to generate the best possible plan for their field season. In addition student should be encouraged to develop fall-back plans in the event of problems, and to use simple techniques for data-collection such as mapping. By considering what to do in the event of problems, the students will have the best possible chance of dealing with them in a satisfactory manner.

Perhaps the biggest problem facing students who would like to undertake field expeditions is the lack of funding, a problem that is likely to become increasingly acute as state support of undergraduates is further reduced. Money is available; for example there are a number of trusts and charities that can provide some financial assistance. Some corporate organisations also support projects either through formal schemes or as a result of well-presented and directed speculative applications. Thus, whilst funding is available to students for this type of fieldwork, the students will need to work extremely hard to obtain it. students should be aware that during their second year they will need to undertake this arduous task without allowing their other studies to suffer; the temptation to dedicate large amounts of time to the expedition planning, which is often extremely exciting, can cause other academic work to be neglected. Thus the situation can arise in which a student has an extremely exciting and dynamic project planned for the third year, but has not passed the second year.

Finally, the desire to undertake fieldwork in an exotic place can encourage students to choose a location and then to try to find a project, which is a poor approach to the planning of a research project. Ideally the student will choose a project that suits them, and which is viable, and then will find a location in which to base the project. In reality this approach is rare, even for projects in the UK, and students will require encouragement to ensure that their projects are not weak.

Case Study - Taiwan 1997
This section uses a case-study to illustrate the type of field work that can be achieved using the expedition approach. It centres on a successful expedition undertaken by a group of undergraduate students from the Department of Geology at the University of Portsmouth in July and August 1997.

The students were studying on the three year B.Eng. course in Engineering Geology and Geotechnics. The requirement of the course is that each student completes a major honours dissertation in their final year, which represents 25% of the final year mark. The requirements for the dissertation, which are strictly enforced, state that:

Project definition and planning is undertaken during the second year of the degree, and an intense data-collection exercise is completed between the second and third years. The students analyse and interpret their field data and undertake any laboratory testing during the early part of the third year, before writing up the report for submission at the Easter of the third year.

The group of students, which consisted of two females and three males, one of which was a mature student, were unusually dynamic, and determined at the start of their second year that they would like to undertake field work abroad. The Department of Geology has had a major research project underway in Taiwan for a few years, with considerable expertise gained in research methods in that environment. In consultation with staff the students determined that this would be a suitable location for their expedition.

Early in their second year the students generated a provisional research plan, identifying the area in which they would like to study and drafting a brochure giving details of their plans. At the same time they contacted Taroko National Park in Taiwan, the body responsible for the area in which the students wished to study. The national park replied quickly, offering assistance and the use of accommodation without charge. Once the basic parameters of the project had been defined the group set-about raising the funds required to support the expedition. The budget that they defined is given in Table 1 based on six weeks of field work for five people, although there was an awareness that this was an absolute minimum. In particular the amounts calculated for transportation and subsistence are both low for this type of expedition. Note also that a contingency fund of 10% of the total cost was allowed for.

Each student agreed that they could contribute a maximum of £500, leaving a minimum of £2560 that needed to be raised.

Over the remaining academic year the students set-about obtaining this money. Initially they were sceptical that such a large sum could be found, especially in light of the lack of funds available within the university. Potential sources of funding that the students approached include the Royal Geographical Society, the airlines, adventure companies, engineering geology consultancies, oil companies, and trust funds. The group were extremely successful in their fund-raising efforts, succeeding in raising £1750 from the RGS, £3750 from a trust fund, £600 from an oil company, five free return flights to Taipei from an international airline and various pieces of reduced cost or subsidised equipment. Thus by May of 1997 the students had obtained sufficient funding for the expedition to be viable.

Over the course of the year the students had devised a set of aims and objectives for their projects. The terrain in which they were to study consisted of a deep marble gorge carved as a result of rapid fluvial incision induced by high rates of uplift. At the base of the gorge is located a major strategic highway linking the east and west coasts of Taiwan. The highway is spectacular and has developed to be a premier tourist attraction. However, the road is narrow and tortuous, creating obvious traffic hazards, and rock falls and landslides are also common. Each student devised a project aimed at targeting some aspect of the problems associated with this area. The projects were:

In each case the study required the collection of a range of geological, geomorphological and engineering data. The students were encouraged to propose detailed work plans for collecting these data, starting with detailed geological mapping at a scale of 1:10 000, then mapping the geomorphology at the same scale, before collecting other data. All the students developed detailed contingency plans in the event of problems. In the event four of the five plans were directly applicable, and the students produced high quality geological maps and collected all the other relevant data. In one case the student encountered problems due to access restrictions to a part of that area; in this case the contingency plan was used and the student obtained a high quality data-set.

At the time of writing the five students are working hard on their individual dissertations so it is not possible to analyse the final outcome of the fieldwork. All the students feel that the expedition was beneficial to them, and they are extremely enthusiastic about the concept. As they start to think about the possibility of obtaining employment it is becoming apparent that the transferable skills that they have gained will stand them in good stead.

In this paper the nature of the expedition approach to independent fieldwork is outlined. It has been demonstrated that there are many positive aspects to this approach, including:

It must be stressed that some disadvantages of this approach exist, including:

Fieldwork | Good Practice Keywords | Authors | Titles | Institutions | Home

Group Projects: an Effective Fieldwork Teaching Strategy

Sarah Maguire
Liverpool Hope University College, Liverpool


Questions have been raised about the quality of learning which takes place on field courses. The need to develop more effective fieldwork programmes addressing clearly the needs of the learners involved and the outcomes in terms of knowledge and skills to be achieved must be addressed (Clark, 1996; Higgett, 1996). This study illustrates the use of group projects as a vehicle for effective learning during fieldwork. This paper aims to explain the pedagogic reasons for using group projects and to give an overview of the student experience of these projects.

Why Use Projects?
Kolb (1984) has stated that for effective learning to take place students need to be actively involved in every stage of experiential learning. These four stages are:

Kolb's Experiential Learning Cycle:

Learning Cycle diagram

A well structured project provides opportunities for all stages of the learning cycle to be engaged with:
thinking/planning - utilisation of prior knowledge and experience to plan and design the project
doing - carrying out the research and writing the report
reflecting - continuous self-assessment and modification during the project and final self-assessment of the process and product

In addition, projects provide students with an opportunity to develop and practise practical and research skills in the field and allow opportunities for them to develop their own interests. The use of projects also provide an assessment which reflects a student's active involvement in fieldwork.

Why Use Group Projects?
Many of our graduates' future employers have stated that their need is for team players (CIHE, 1996; Harvey et. al. 1997);

"Graduates will need to be able to work effectively in teams as there is little demand in a flexible organisation for introspective, individualised working".
Harvey et.al (1997)

There is, therefore, adequate reason to include the development of group and team working within the curriculum of our degrees. The many pedagogic benefits of utilising group-work within our teaching are also apparent. The quality of learning is improved by peer support and pressure, with the students gaining experience in communication, negotiation, organisation and task management (Gibbs, 1994; Gold et. al.,1991) and often the end product is of superior quality (Gibbs, 1994). In addition, the security of working within a group provides an excellent first stage in the students' progression to independent and autonomous learning.

The findings of this study demonstrate, through student evaluation, the benefits of adopting this approach to learning.

The First Year Fieldwork Project
Students at Liverpool Hope University College studying in the Environmental and Biological Studies Department undertake a group project whilst on compulsory fieldwork towards the end of their second semester.

The project aims are:

Students self-select the group they wish to work with and are provided with clear criteria and instructions describing how they will be assessed (see Box 1). A selection of research projects are put to the students and each group negotiates with a tutor and agrees a plan of action. In addition, students are provided with support materials outlining how groups function and suggesting ideas for managing this task.

Student Evaluation
The students were asked to complete a self-evaluation form and to submit this with their completed project report. Below are some of the comments that were made, these have been selected to reflect those of the cohort of 58 students.

Question: would you work in the same group again, and why?
57 students responded "yes", 1 student responded "no"

"A lot more work could be done in the allotted time.....a more in depth study." "We worked well in logical stages to meet the deadline set for the project." "...each team member had different skills and helped each other."

Question: What did you enjoy most about working in a group?
"..watching how people interact, especially when people become "more confident" in themselves." "Getting to know people better, to fully know them, not just socially but academically." "If you were unsure of anything there were always people to ask and people to keep on motivating you." "Seeing how other members approached things and noting their skills at things I was weak in and making me more determined to better my own future performance."

Question: If you could choose would you carry out your next task as an individual or in a group? Why?
36 students said they would choose to work in a group (62%)
13 had no preference (22%)
7 students would choose to work as an individual (12%)
2 did not respond (4%)
The reasons given included:

"Group work tends to benefit me more as varied ideas and opinions are offered between people often enhancing your knowledge of certain topics. Builds confidence and friendships."

(Chose to work as an individual) You yourself are responsible for the mark you receive - no one else".

(No preference)"I don't know. I enjoyed working as a group but I also enjoy working on my own. I find it very hard to rely on other people, and worry if they are getting the work done. There are advantages and disadvantages to both."

Conclusions - Did The Projects Provide A Formum For Effective Teaching (Learning)?
Students were able to work in small groups gaining firsthand experience of field based research = learning by doing and ownership.

Students were able to clearly identify and achieve all the aims of the assessment (mean mark = 62%) = learning by planning and reflecting

Students engaged with the learning experience as is demonstrated by their comments regarding group working = motivated learning.

The combination of these factor contributed to a successful and enjoyable learning experience for both students and tutors.

Council for Industry and Higher Education (CIHE) (1996) 'Helping Students Towards Success at Work: Declaration of Intent.' London, CIHE.

Clark D., (1996) 'The changing national context of fieldwork in geography.' Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 20(3), pp. 385-391.

Gibbs, G., (1994) 'Learning in Teams'Oxford Brookes University, Oxford.

Gold, J. R., Jenkins, A., Lee, R., Monk, J. R., Riley, J., Shepherd, I. D. H. and Unwin, D. J. (1991)
Teaching Geography in Higher Education: a manual of good practice Oxford, Basil Blackwell,
Institute of British Geographers Special Publication 24.

Kolb, D. (1984) 'Experiential Learning: experience as the source of learning and development' London, Prentice-Hall.

Harvey L., Moon S. and Geall, V. (1997) 'Graduates' Work: Organisational change and students' attributes.'

Higgett M., (1996) 'Addressing the new agenda for fieldwork in Higher Education.' Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 20(3), pp. 391-398.

Box 1: Project Instructions

To initiate the development of research skills; by carrying out a simple fieldwork project in a small group.
To develop group working skills
To establish a process where students evaluate their own, and their group's performance.

In this fieldwork session you will carry out a short research project in a small group. You will need to consider the role you take within the group and the effectiveness of your own and group's performance.
As a group you will plan a short piece of research, collect data at your fieldwork location and on return to college write a group project report.
Reports will be assessed using the criteria below.

Assessment Criteria
Clear, appropriate and achievable project aims/planning and background research.
Originality of thought.
Use of appropriate methods for data collection.
Adequate and careful sampling.
Clear analysis of results, appropriate presentation of data and use of statistics.
Clear interpretation of results, use of reference material.
Clarity of discussion and conclusion, relevant to aims.
Overall flow and continuity of written and presentation style of project report.
Overall standard of presentation.

Report Guidelines
Each group submits onereport,word processed and a maximum of 2000 words in length
The report should be coherent and flow with a consistent written style.
The report must be written in the following format:

Introduction: maximum length 1 page, stating aims/ or hypothesis and briefly introducing the project
Background: gives information on the topic under investigation from the literature. AT LEAST two sources of information must be quoted.
Methods: clearly describe the methods, equipment and techniques used. It is usually important to refer to the sources of these methods.
Results: present the data in verbal, tabular and graphical/diagrammatic form. Analysis of the results (possibly statistical) is also given.
Discussion: presents interpretation and explanation of your results. The findings should be related to knowledge and understanding of the topic in the literature and discussed in terms of achievement of the original aims of the project. Suggestions for further study are also commonly presented.
Conclusion: gives a brief summary of your findings and evaluates your work; for example what were the limitations of your work.
Reference list: presented in Harvard system.
Self-assessment form - reflect upon your role as a member of your project group and the success of the project.

Fieldwork | Good Practice Keywords | Authors | Titles | Institutions | Home

Fieldwork and the Open University

Kevin Church
Department of Earth Sciences, Open University, Milton Keynes, MK7 6AA
Tel: 01908 858360, Email: K.d.church@open.ac.uk

Open University students spend most of their time studying independently at home. Despite this, they do have access to a significant amount of compulsory and optional fieldwork. Three of our geology courses currently require students to complete a week long summer school and all three schools have a strong fieldwork component. As this amounts to three weeks teaching time across all courses, we have to maximize the quality of the time available. We have now been running intensive field courses for our students for over 25 years and the teaching techniques employed have evolved during this time. Many were considered innovative when first used. This article outlines the techniques currently employed and describes one (fieldwork assessment) that has been used and subsequently discarded as being unsuccessful.

Open University Earth Science Courses
The Open University (OU) teaching year runs from early February to October. Students who enroll on courses by the previous September are sent several mailings of course materials during their year of study. These materials consist of course texts, audio and video cassettes, and supplementary items. Additionally, students on the three courses with summer schools receive a Home Experiment Kit containing a microscope, thin sections and rock specimens. Students may be assessed on all these course components, together with any set books which they may be required to buy.

Throughout the year students are assessed on their understanding of the course using multiple choice questions (Computer Marked Assignments or 'CMAs') which are sent to Walton Hall for marking, or using essay-type questions which are marked by the student's tutor (Tutor Marked Assignments or 'TMAs'). An end of year exam accounts for 50% of the overall course assessment.

Each course employs tutors ('Associate Lecturers') living throughout the country. Many work at other academic institutions and tutor for the OU in their spare time. At the start of the course, students are assigned to the tutor living closest to them and attend his/her tutorials. Tutors are responsible for helping students with course related queries, in addition to marking their TMAs.

The Earth science courses currently on offer are as follows:-

Course code Course Title Summer School
S236 Geology Yes
S267 How the Earth Works  
S268 Physical Resources and Environment  
S269 Earth and Life  
S338 Sedimentary Processes and Basin Analysis Yes
S339 Understanding the Continents Tes
S330 Oceanography  
S365 Evolution  

S236 is a second level course, equivalent to second year study at a 'conventional' university. It is assumed (though not required) that students study this course before undertaking the third level soft-rock (S338) and hard-rock (S339) courses. In 1997, S236 had about 900 students, and S338/S339 about 250 students each.

Summer Schools
Week-long summer schools are organized at Durham University (S236 and S338) and at the Kindrogan Field Centre, near Pitlochry (S339) over a period of between five and nine weeks during July and August. The most important aim of these schools is to provide the students with field experience, designed to compliment and reinforce topics covered in the course material. Because the same teaching programme is run in successive weeks, another important aim is to ensure that the quality of teaching is comparable from week to week.

Summer schools are staffed by tutors and demonstrators from a variety of backgrounds; some are full-time academics from the OU, but the majority are drawn from other academic institutions and commercial organizations and are either tutoring the course, or have done so in the past. OU postgraduates are also employed; as there is no undergraduate teaching on the OU campus, summer school is likely to be their only teaching experience. The average staff : student ratio is about 1 tutor and 1 demonstrator to 12–15 students.

Teaching Methodology
Our students are drawn from a wide variety of backgrounds; many have no previous educational qualifications, whilst others may be highly qualified in other disciplines. Many students have given up annual leave to attend summer school and most are self-financing. It is therefore unsurprising that our students are highly motivated and are eager to apply concepts that they have learnt in the course material to their fieldwork. Our students range in age from 18 upwards and consequently have varying degrees of physical fitness and/or disabilities. It is therefore important that our teaching staff are sensitive to those who need additional help. (As the three summer schools are predominantly field based, it is almost impossible for those with severe mobility difficulties and they are granted excusal.)

Before summer school, students are provided with a booklet outlining the summer school programme and field localities to be visited. To place these localities in a regional context, details of the local geology are also included. At summer school students visit a number of different localities to give them a wide variety of field experience. Field sheets are also provided to give an important focus for fieldwork activities and these build on the summer school booklet that students bring with them to the school. Fieldwork is carried out during the day with laboratory follow-up and debriefing in the evenings. Students are debriefed using videos of the localities visited each day which are designed to reiterate the key points. These are particularly useful when the days programme has been disrupted by bad weather. They may also be used by disabled students who seek excusal from summer school.

As mentioned above, it is important for us to present a highly structured programme to ensure that all students receive the same quality experience regardless of the fact that each summer school week is staffed by different people. To ensure that this happens, tutors are provided with notes to enable them to become familiar with the field localities and exercises. These notes ensure a degree of consistency in teaching between different weeks by outlining the key points that tutors are expected to cover. Additionally, the debriefing videos are made available to new tutors before summer school. It is difficult for us to prescribe a method of teaching to the multitude of tutors and demonstrators that we employ. However, the summer school materials just described do serve to focus the way in which the students are taught.

On the second level 'Geology' course (S236) it is assumed that students have not been in the field before. In order to improve the confidence of each student and encourage participation in group discussions, 12–15 students are assigned to a tutor and remain in that group for the entire week. The emphasis is on teaching students the investigative skills to enable them to gather relevant data and to use that data to interpret a locality (for example how to record observations in a field notebook, how to make a graphic log and complete field sketches). The 'Cook's Tour' approach is always avoided. At localities where the geology is fairly straightforward, students are encouraged to make their own observations using for guidance the questions posed on their field sheets. The group's tutor and demonstrator are on hand to help students interpret their observations and if necessary, show them additional lines of evidence which will help them to understand the locality. At localities where the geology is more complex, the tutor may decide to control the session by holding a tutorial and asking a series of questions interspersed with new information, thereby guiding students through to a conclusion as a group.

On the third level courses schools (S338 and S339), the need for specialist tutors precludes the use of tutor groups. Instead, the 40 students per week are led by the tutor(s) whose speciality is most relevant to the days activities. The group is split up where logistics dictate and where all tutors are expected to be able to teach a particular locality. At third level the emphasis is more on the use of the skills developed at second level. Students are not spoon-fed ideas and there is less opportunity for them to wait to hear the 'official interpretation' of a particular locality. Fewer localities are visited per day which enables students to make their own observations in more detail and prevents them rushing to conclusions because of time constraints. Field sheets are still used to guide students, but they are expected to make their own notes, develop their own ideas and reach their own conclusions. These ideas may then be developed and explored in a group discussion which ends each visit. An example of a teaching schedule used at summer school, the S338 programme is detailed in the table below:

Time<< Venue Topic
Saturday 1630 - 1730 Laboratory Introduction to S338
  1900 - 2100 Laboratory Carbonates tutorial Interpretation of geological photos
Sunday 0800 - 1730 Field Trip The Permian of East Durham
  1900 - 2100 Laboratory Permian day debriefing video Petrography clinic Geophysics tutorial
Monday 0800 - 1730 Field Trip Yorkshire coast (Middle Jurassic of the Cleveland Basin)
  1900 - 2100 Laboratory Yorkshire coast debriefing video Petrography clinic Geophysics tutorial
Tuesday 0900 - 1230 Laboratory Borehole logging
  1400 - 1730 Laboratory Seismic Interpretations (Brent exercise)
  1900 - 2100 Laboratory Structural tutorial Structural exercises Introduction to Scremerston
Wednesday 0800 - 1730 Field Trip Lower Carboniferous sediments and structures of Scremerston
Thursday 0900 - 1230 Laboratory Tectonics and sequence stratigraphy
  1400 - 1730 Laboratory Sequence stratigraphy Introduction to Howick Bay
  1900 - 2000 Laboratory Exam tutorial
Friday 0800 - 1400 Laboratory Carboniferous sediments and structures of Howick Bay
  1630 End of School  

Assessment Strategy
Two methods aimed at assessing students performance at summer school have been applied in the past. Firstly, tutors assessed each student's performance in the field in terms of their ability to apply theory to practice. Many students found this method intimidating, making them reluctant to participate in discussions. This was seen as counter-productive to the aims of the summer school and the method was discontinued. Secondly, students were required to undertake a multiple choice exam based on the weeks programme at the end of the summer school week. However, this exam eroded into precious teaching time and students who had to leave the summer school early, or had not been able to attend, were unable to sit it. Testing students after summer school was found to be ineffective, not least because the answers were frequently passed around the student population between weeks.

The large number of students attending our summer schools makes other methods of assessment impractical (for example the marking of field notebooks). However, if students have benefited from summer school, then this may enhance their performance in the exam.

Virtual field trips
S236, the Level 2 'Geology' course is being re-written for 1999, and all students will be required to have access to a PC with CD drive, since the new course will be introducing teaching materials on CD-ROM. Part of the software will include virtual field trips on CD-ROMs, which are currently being developed in the OU Earth Science Department; localities to be visited include the Skiddaw metamorphic aureole, the Strathaird Peninsula, Skye, the Fife coast and Big Bend National Park, Texas. CD-ROM activities will include exercises to be completed in an accompanying workbook, encouraging students to make observations and interpretations from on-screen activities, in much the same way as currently happens with summer school field activities.

Optional Fieldwork
Optional field trips are run every year for students throughout the country. Students are welcome to attend as many trips as they wish, so significant extra fieldwork experience is on offer to those who are interested. Regional field trips are offered as part of the students tutorial provision and these are usually run by their tutors. Such trips are advertised in a National Programme of Field Excursions which is sent to every student studying Earth Science courses. In addition to this, the Open University Geological Society (OUGS) was formed in 1972 in response to student enthusiasm for fieldwork. The 15 branches of the OUGS arrange local programmes of events, including field trips for its 1600 members.

The fieldwork options detailed above show that our students do not necessarily suffer from a lack of fieldwork experience. On the contrary, those that wish to get involved have adequate opportunity to do so. However, these opportunities must remain optional as there are those students that cannot attend summer school, for example disabled students, those who cannot get time off work, and those studying from prison. We could not be considered 'open to all' if these students were excluded from our courses because they could not complete compulsory components.

Many of the challenges that the OU faces in teaching its students are unique. However, our overriding aims, to maximize the teaching time in the field and the efficiency with which we teach are the same as in any 'conventional' university. We have been teaching in the field for over 25 years now and throughout this time the input of numerous academics and the feedback from students has ensured a steady evolution of ideas. Though financial constraints may sadly reduce the quantity of fieldwork available to students in the future, it is hoped that we can continue to improve and refine the quality of the schools that we are able to run.

Fieldwork | Good Practice Keywords | Authors | Titles | Institutions | Home

Effective Teaching in the Field:
IMAGE, the Future for Geological Fieldwork?

Jackie Burnett, Ruth Siddall, Sorin Filipescu, Paul Bown, Tim Hoare & Danny Howard
Department of Geological Sciences, University College London, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT


Introduction - What is IMAGE?
IMAGE (Interactive Mathematics And Geoscience Education) has been set up as the result of a HEFCE FDTL award as a tool to aid and supplement teaching and learning of undergraduate geoscience fieldwork and mathematics by way of self-tutoring modules. This paper discusses some of the features of the fieldwork component of this award and how it compliments pre-existing field teaching in the Department of Geological Sciences at UCL.

Self-tutoring modules are beneficial to both students and staff, and can be employed in the contexts of both pre- and post-fieldwork learning. From the staff point of view, self-tutoring frees up time both in the university and in the field, which can be used more profitably. Staff are available to answer specific queries about the modules, although this should not be necessary because the modules are intended to be self-explanatory and self-contained. As for the students, task repetition is fundamental to aid learning in the use of geological and environmental equipment and techniques. Such training is time-consuming and expensive in the field and, since students learn at different rates, there will always be someone who still has not mastered the technique at the end of such a session. With self-tutoring modules, students will have the opportunity to repeat an exercise in their own time and at their own pace, prior to their fieldwork, until they have gained some confidence and tested themselves as required by each module. Students will also have access to modules which will train them to make scientifically meaningful observations

The Need For Geoscience Fieldwork Training
Arguments against geoscience fieldwork training are motivated by financial and safety constraints. Even though, in more recent times, employers have required more laboratory- and computer-based geoscience skills (geophysics, geochemistry, micropalaeontology), these cannot have relevance without the student also having an empirical grounding in geological principles. Additionally, laboratory-based teaching is necessarily simplistic, and only in the field can the complexity of geoscience subjects be properly demonstrated in a context where the student is more able visualise in both three and four dimensions.

Geosciences Field Tuition At UCL
The fieldwork programme at UCL is dedicated to continuing to provide extensive and effective, field-based geosciences tuition for undergraduates. At present, field-training for undergraduate degree schemes is based on a series of general and tailored trips, aiming to provide both a broad field experience and also to hone specific skills. These culminate with the final year field project at a geological mapping 'camp', or a self-developed (with guidance) project in an area of their choice. The route taken depends on the degree course. Third- and fourth- (MSci) year field-classes are specifically designed to support course options. Skills acquired, and possible routes, are illustrated in Figure below.

Figure Click on icon to see figure.

Fieldwork encompasses many disciplines. Geology-specific fieldwork skills generally include using a variety of geological, geophysical and environmental testing equipment, collecting samples and data, keeping a field notebook and mapping and interpreting terrain. In addition, transferable skills include writing reports, working alone or as part of a team, and problem-solving. However, there are also less obvious transferable skills which are incorporated into our programme: behaving responsibly in dangerous situations, assessing hazards and administering First Aid.

Structuring of this field programme has been facilitated by the low intake of geosciences undergraduates at UCL which allows us to retain a ~1:7 tuition ratio. First-year field-courses are the largest (40-50 students). Students and staff generally stay in self-catered accommodation (usually in cost-effective caravan parks), allowing ease of after-work communication and maintenance of a degree of social discipline.

Varied levels of skill require different approaches to evaluation, and the overall aims of each field-course are clearly stated for the benefit of both staff and students. Assessment at UCL is variable. Standard reports and maps are traditionally marked. First-year students are required to have mastered the basics of geology - how to use equipment, differences between rock types, stratigraphical concepts and obvious structural features. Some of these can be assessed through comprehension tests (easy to mark or self-assess). A popular and effective way to present this extra work is to host a 'pub quiz' with prizes at the end of the trip, thus engendering a spirit of competitiveness but in a relaxed atmosphere. Monitoring of field notebooks is also done on a regular basis. As the students' skills develop and progress, then the emphasis rests more on evaluation of the process and the product. This process should be clearly visible in a well-kept field notebook, which can be evaluated in terms of the amount and precision of data provided, the layout and neatness of this, and the insertion of remarks which together demonstrate an evolving process of thought. Most of this assessment is done in the field, in the evenings, so that the students have immediate feedback which they can discuss and respond to. This continual on-trip assessment avoids students 'slipping through the net' and at the same time boosts morale and increases pressure to produce the best-quality work. Extra time input is required by staff during the field-course but this is preferable to carrying this out on return, and much more useful for the student.

A common misconception of UCL geoscience undergraduates is that learning in the field is divorced from learning in the classroom. This feeling engenders a lack of enthusiasm for fieldwork among undergraduates, who fail to comprehend the necessity for actual fieldwork when geosciences can be learned in classroom comfort! The award of the HEFCE FDTL grant supporting IMAGE has enabled further development of the field-teaching programme at UCL to provide more, and a more in-depth, interaction with classroom-based teaching, focusing particularly on learning and implementing field skills, without increasing supervision and marking loads for staff. Specifically, this is achieved by introducing the student to particular field-courses through both the relevant course lectures, and through self-tutoring, interactive modules, in advance of each field-course, and by encouraging the use of data and specimens collected in the field in practical classes on their return. These approaches increase both the students' involvement in fieldwork and also their perception of its relevance to their degree courses.

IMAGE has begun to implement these pre- and post-course tuition links via computer-based, self-learning modules which are initially sited on the worldwide web but which will eventually be accessed via CD-ROM. Apart from teaching straightforward technical skills, pre-course tuition lessens the amount of time the student spends taking verbatim notes in the field by providing extensive regional and historical contexts for each the outcrop to be visited and requiring the student to demonstrate a level of comprehension of these. An ultimate goal is to introduce intra-field-course tuition modules via portable computers, and this could be extended to include modules which can be carried out by the students should the weather be unsuitable for outdoor teaching.

At UCL, we encourage both group work and individual research, although the latter is generally carried out with pairs mapping similar areas, although not together, for safety reasons. Individual research is more appropriate for second- and third-year students who have gained some degree of confidence in their skills and who need to test these in a realistic situation. Most students start out daunted by this part of their degree course but most also admit afterwards that it was probably the best part, simply because they finally felt like real geologists. Group work is useful for encouraging students to solve specific problems. In a peer group, they are more likely to ask questions of each other and of the staff member than if they were working individually. They are thus more likely to acquire a firmer grasp of whatever task they are undertaking. However, group work does require some forethought, in that each member of the group should be either required to complete a certain task which complements those of the other group members, or they should all be required to carry out each task in turn. Thus groups should only be as large as the number of tasks required so that no one gets bored.

Advantages Of Computer-Aided Learning: Pipeline Projects
Using equipment and acquiring basic skills
Geology at UCL is moving away from teaching the use of field equipment exclusively in the field. We are experimenting with using pre-fieldwork, self-tutoring modules to do this which will allow the student to learn by repetition in comfortable surroundings. Similar modules will be used to tutor the student in the skills of keeping a useful field notebook and making accurate geological sketches. These skills will then be encouraged in the field early on via interactive fieldwork-books which prompt the student until they have learned how to record such data effectively. Two field-courses are dedicated to mapping training, and topographic and geological map-reading skills are instilled through first-year tutorials and practicals, and an orienteering trip on Hampstead Heath. Eventually, these courses will be supplemented by self-guided website-based projects to encourage practical use of these skills in familiar surroundings. In central London, fresh outcrop is not frequently encountered but rocks in the form of building stones are, and a lot of hand specimen description techniques can be gleaned from simply walking down Oxford Street.

Safety Training and Risk Assessment
Safety in the field is something that we all take seriously these days, not least because it can cost a department dear to have a student injure themselves and then sue! At UCL, a pre-field-course lecture on field safety and correct clothing is provided, along with basic First Aid demonstrations by the St. John's Ambulance Brigade. Although we have no intention of teaching First Aid via CAL, the website gives students ready access to field-safety guidelines, checklists of common First Aid situations and a useful First Aid kit checklist for reference purposes. In the field, students are encouraged to make notes and assess hazards as they approach outcrops. Safety and risk-assessment videos and tutorials are also in the pipeline. These will include basic weather knowledge, how to read tide tables (not always intuitive!) and how to assess the landscape in terms of hazards both natural and man-made.

The Future Of Geosciences Fieldwork Teaching: 'Virtual' Fieldwork As A Supplement
We consider virtual fieldwork to be that which is addressed by the self-tutoring modules which deal with specific (actual) geographical areas and geological problems. However, a drawback associated with the idea of virtual fieldwork is the perception that this may eventually replace costly and staff-time-consuming actual fieldwork. Although we are not alone in recommending that virtual fieldwork not be used as a substitute for actual fieldwork in any current degree scheme, it could be used in future to accredit, for example, geology students with physical disabilities which would preclude or severely limit their participation in an actual fieldwork program.

As a supplement to actual fieldwork, virtual modules can be exceptionally useful. A pervasive problem with students is that they do not read handouts! This is a problem because they contain important pieces of information which may be difficult to convey verbally in adverse weather conditions to a group of >20 students. They also contain background information about regional settings which may not be immediately appreciable at a particular outcrop. And because students do not read handouts, they take copious amounts of unnecessary notes.

Our main, interactive, fieldwork-supplement module at present allows the student to acquaint himself with all aspects of the first, full-blown field-course, to Dorset and Cornwall - possibly the most important since it introduces all of the basic aspects of field geology. It is virtually a handout and then some. Essentially students are immediately interested in the practical details of their field-course, and these are clearly set out in the introductory pages: what the trip involves and what they might expect to learn, what equipment they will need, and details of contact addresses and costs the student will be expected to bear. The daily itinerary is also clearly set out, so the student can appreciate the amount of work and travel involved, and the overall objectives of the day, so that they can gain some perspective of how the locations they will visit are linked, geologically. (A common criticism from students is that they feel like they are continuously being dumped at different localities which have nothing in common!) An idea of the regional geology is provided by maps supplemented by photographs of some of the formations and structures the students will visit. The student should remember at least some of these images on the trip, allowing them to make links with what they have read prior to the trip, and relate it to what they see in the field. The text contains in-depth information about wider geological contexts, for example the Variscan Orogeny, the Lizard Ultramafic Complex, and the Cornubian Batholith. These allow them to then make the link between the host rocks and the mineralisation of the area, and photographs of the rocks at outcrop are provided so that they will be prompted to remember what they are looking at when they see these in the field. The student is thus led through all aspects of the field-course in the comfort of a terminal room without the discomfort of weather, not being able to see or hear properly, without having to compete for individual attention in a limited time-frame.

To ensure that the student has understood this module, there are quiz-like comprehension exercises for them to work through. The module is used also in conjunction with pre- and post-field-course meetings, where the students can demonstrate their levels of comprehension. The student is then encouraged to use the specimens, datasets and information gathered on the field-course in post-course practicals and in the mathematical modules, thus integrating this particular module into the wider curriculum.

Fieldwork is undeniably an essential part of any geoscience degree. However, in order to be effective at teaching in the field, educators need to realise the potential of pre- and post-field-course tuition. If this is, at least in part, carried out by students via interactive computer modules, then there is no need for extra input from the educator. At UCL, we believe pre- and post-field-course tuition should play a greater role in the teaching of geology students. At present, students view field-courses as something separate from what is taught in the lecture theatre. By incorporating the field-course, through the medium of self-tutoring, interactive modules, into practical classes, students benefit by being able to make the link in their minds between the theory and the actual, so that when they get to see rocks, structures, minerals and fossils at outcrop, they already have a grasp of the broader contexts of what they are seeing, and can also start to visualise geology in all of its dimensions. Also, they lose the daunting feeling of something being entirely new to them when they finally get to see an outcrop (i.e. they become endowed with a degree of confidence). Repetition is also a useful approach in learning and this can be incorporated into the learning process by exposing students to particular field-courses both before and after the course itself, and making them interact in a virtual context as well as in an actual context. Importantly, this extra-field-course tuition does not require extra time-tabling or staff time.

At UCL, we intend to approach many of the shortcomings of geoscience fieldwork tuition which were recently identified at the UK Geoscience Symposium through IMAGE, and current and upcoming information about this is available for view via our worldwide website. The ultimate set of modules will provide extensive background information supporting already existing trips, with both useful reference information and additional, self-tutoring, skill-forming modules attached. Our goal is to produce students who forge the link between classroom/laboratory- and field-based learning early in their undergraduate careers, and who can therefore take advantage of this first step towards gaining the confidence to combine their theoretical grounding with the necessary practical and social skills in the natural laboratory.

Fieldwork | Good Practice Keywords | Authors | Titles | Institutions | Home

TRIADS Applications: Computer-Based Assessment of Recent Field Experience.

Don M Mackenzie & Julia F W Stowell
Division of Earth Sciences, School of Environmental and Applied Sciences, University of Derby, Kedleston Road, Derby DE22 1GB

Formal assessment of students' field skills can be difficult to achieve whilst actually in the field. The reasons for this range from logistical to climatological. In an attempt to address this problem an assessment strategy has been developed which places emphasis on attention to detail and accurate recording of data whilst in the field, followed by subsequent recall and interpretation for a computer-based assessment some weeks later. Field notebooks are collected at the end of the field course and assessed for clarity and presentation but are returned to the students for use in the assessment. The computer-based assessment uses the Tripartite Interactive Assessment Delivery System (TRIADS) which is soon to be released to HEFCE-funded Departments as part of the Assessment of Learning Outcomes Project. A large range of question types may be used, from simple multiple choice, to questions which require the student to label and draw key structures onto a field photograph. Live examples of part of the test may be viewed on the Web at URL:


Assessment Structure
The test commences with a brief multiple choice assessment of the students' knowledge of basic principles of field identification of metamorphic rocks and then tests their knowledge of the relationship between observed lithologies and protoliths. The test then moves to a quarry face, displaying folded metasediments, and checks that students can distinguish bedding and recognise the fold by asking them to describe the fold morphology. They are asked to indicate joints and cleavage using the polygonal hot-spot question type provided in the TRIAD system. Students must then draw the orientation of the cleavage on the screen, using the draw-line question type, as a check that no guesswork has been involved in the previous question. Students would have examined this exposure in the field approximately three weeks prior to the test.

In the screens which follow, the student may use the zoom facility to become more familiar with the detail of an area of the exposure. This is an attempt to mirror the methodology normally employed in the field where students are encouraged to make observations of the large scale features, then move in to examine the fine detailed evidence before moving away again to place that evidence into the context of the whole exposure. Once students have become familiar with the rock at varying scales the succeeding question asks the student to consider the criteria which they would use to determine if bedding had been graded. Some students may select 'grain size', from a list of possible criteria presented to them, but this is an unreliable criterion for metamorphosed sediments because grainsize may change with recrystallization. For questions of this type it is possible to zero-score incorrect answers or to attach a penalty to them. This question moves on to give information about the mineral assemblages of different portions of a single graded bed, shown in close-up, and asks the students to determine the way-up of the sequence. A semi-quantitative estimate of the relative proportions of the dominant minerals would normally be recorded by hand lens investigation in the field. A correct deduction from this information requires that the student understands the relationship between mineral assemblages in metamorphic rocks and the protoliths from which those rocks have been derived. In some cases, questions like this could include photomicrographs of thin sections to add an extra dimension which is not normally achieved in the field.

Having determined the 'way up' on a small scale the student is then asked to relate this to the larger outcrop by using the TRIADS draw-arrow question facility to indicate the younging direction of the strata (Fig. 1). Students are then in a position to be able to give the structure a formal name, selected from a multiple choice array. This requires them to relate the small scale evidence to the larger scale and to be able to pick-out and follow the bedding around the fold displayed in the outcrop.

Test Results
Scores for the whole test and for individual questions may be displayed to the student immediately after the test, together with correct answers for those questions which scored poorly. In this way students gain immediate feed-back. Staff may be available to provide additional help in explaining why particular answers are correct or incorrect. A range of other facilities are available. For example, statistics for a whole group may be calculated, the test may be timed if required (Fig. 1) and the structure of the question order may be varied so that students may see each question once only or may be able to go back to questions if they wish.

Figure 1Figure 1: Example of a screen from the test. The question is of the draw-arrow type. The 'How' box explains how the arrow may be constructed and the student may 'Edit' their drawing. In this example the assessment is timed. The statement at the top of the screen reminds students how much time they have left and also indicates the percentage of questions completed.

The essence of this style of computer-based test is that students are encouraged to take good, coherent notes and sketches whilst in the field together with explanations of the interpretative deductions they make. The field exercise must be highly structured in order that students have covered the work to be tested. This particular test was developed for a First Year group who had no previous experience of metamorphic rocks in the field. By conducting the formal test at a later date we are able to spend more time teaching students the skills they need, allowing them to practice their new skills under staff supervision and guidance. One small but useful advantage this assessment method has over tests conducted in the field is that students see the benefit of high quality notes when they are asked to recall their field experience some weeks later. In conclusion, we see the TRIADS computer-based field assessment as a useful addition to the range of assessment methods available but add that we do not regard it in any way as a substitute for field-based tests or exercises. Its particular strength lies in situations when teaching time is limited and students are being introduced to new skills or concepts.

Fieldwork | Good Practice Keywords | Authors | Titles | Institutions | Home

The Unique Learning Perspective Offered by Fieldwork in Earth Sciences: a Geology Undergraduate's View

Amy C Davis
Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine, London

This article presents a student view of geological fieldwork, and discusses what and how students learn through fieldwork experiences. Using specific examples from a two week Field Technique Course, the personal, social and academic challenges and rewards offered by fieldwork are illustrated. As well as considering the unique opportunity fieldwork presents to consolidate and develop theoretical knowledge, in the field, by geological problem solving; and through this process, develop essential personal and professional skills for the future.

Fieldwork is a particularly valuable aspect of geology, because through observation and time spent in the field one is able to observe geological phenomena and apply theoretical knowledge to solving geological problems. This process provides insights into a wide range of field based environmental, economic and risk evaluation settings that confront geologists everyday.

As a 2nd year undergraduate student at Imperial College I have already experienced a broad range of fieldwork courses at locations in the United Kingdom and Europe. Together, these have given me a wide range of learning perspectives which have challenged, clarified and consolidated my theoretical knowledge, and provided a basis for further learning and enthusiasm for the subject.

Potentially, fieldwork can be academically, personally and socially challenging and rewarding. Through fieldwork, one develops personal and professional skills essential for future employment

But why is fieldwork challenging? And how do we, as students, learn and view our field experiences?

I would like to address these questions by illustrating some of my personal experiences, both academic and social, using a recent Field Technique Course held in September 1997

The Appleby 2nd year Field Technique Course
The course, which is two weeks long, is based near Appleby, between the Pennines and the Lake District; in an area which provides a good range of geological settings. The aim of the course is to introduce students to a range of new techniques, including: section measuring and logging, geophysical investigations, underground mapping and surveying; and an opportunity to develop individual mapping skills and quarry surveying techniques introduced in the first year. As part of this course, three days are spent in the Pateley Bridge area, North Yorkshire, geologically mapping underground in the Gillfield Level of Sunnyside Mine.

The course introduced us to a good range of geological techniques in different geological settings, working in self-selected groups of four to five students, under the supervision and guidance of different members of staff. The aims, challenges and rewards, which I experienced in each of these, are discussed below.

Hartley Quarry
Two days were spent in Hartley Quarry; the aim was to accurately survey the quarry face exposed in two levels of the quarry and to make a detailed geological map of the area studied.

Special emphasis was placed on unravelling the complex structural history of the geology exposed in the quarry, which had experienced several phases of thrust, relaxation and normal faulting, and associated drag folding.

Defining the structural history of the quarry using geological evidence to determine the sense of movement on the faults, for example, fault plane orientation, drag folding, slickensides and stratigraphic marker horizons, was challenging personally and to the group. Initially, individual ideas were formulated by observation and then discussed, rationalised and refined within the group, in the quarry. Once an initial interpretation had been formulated, appropriate field observations and measurements were taken. Three members of the group then began to survey the boundary of the quarry benches, while one member continued to refine the initial interpretation and take additional field measurements where required.

This exercise highlighted the challenge of individually tackling complex geological problems in the field, and then communicating these ideas to the group and working together to complete the task. This required co-operation and input from each team member in order to constructively evaluate ideas, and plan the next stage of action, allocating appropriate tasks for each member of the group.

We were encouraged by our tutors to complete the map and cross sections in the field, where further measurements and interpretation could still be made if necessary, before returning to the field centre. It was challenging to decide on a final interpretation in the field, and then to complete the map to a high standard of presentation in the field with no desk, and in a limited time.

The task was made more difficult by extremely wet weather conditions on the final day, which hindered our progress and made it difficult to accurately survey the quarry boundary. We were unable to take accurate field measurements because the quarry walls became unstable and unsafe due to the wet weather. This reduced our enthusiasm for the task and made it very hard to complete the map in the field, to a high standard of presentation. Overall this made it more difficult to make progress as a team.

Safety is an important issue when working in a quarry and we became much more aware of the safety procedures and precautions required when in a working quarry environment.

Overall, the exercise presented us with an opportunity to build self-confidence when tackling complex geological problems individually in the field. It highlighted the importance of teamwork and the need to maintain an efficient and cohesive team even in poor working conditions. However, importantly, it also showed the strength and humour which can be drawn by a group pulling together to make the most of a difficult situation.

Independent Mapping
Three days were spent towards the end of the field course independently mapping an area of ~2km2 within the fault zone of the Cross Fell Inlier and the western edge of the Pennine Block. The mapping was undertaken in pairs, with some initial guidance, and access to stereotopic aerial photograph pairs.

The exercise presented me with the challenge of making independent field observations, interpretations and accurate field measurements; and of working efficiently in a pair. We had to learn to pace ourselves and maintain our progress and motivation over the three days.

In the mapping area it was important for us to observe the micro palaeontological and lithological characteristics of the units at different locations (m – dm scale). This presented me with the challenge of utilising all of the gathered information to form a macro view of the geology across the whole of the mapped area.

As in most fieldwork exercises, we quickly recognised the importance of making good concise field observations, notations and measurements, accurately in the field. However, working in a pair was rewarding and we enjoyed the freedom to work at our own pace and plan our own time.

Geophysical Investigation and Slope Stability
One day was spent making a present-day slope stability assessment of a palaeo-landslide on the eastern side of Knock Pike, Cumbria. The landslide occurred in columnar jointed and deformed ignimbrite, a member of the Borrowdale Volcanic Group.

A site investigation was conducted in the morning looking at the lithological and structural characteristics of the ignimbrite, and the topographical and hydrological features of the landslide. In the afternoon we were introduced to conducting resistivity and seismic refraction surveys in the field. This allowed us to identify the slip surface and the position of the water table below ground using new and sophisticated field-computer systems. This exercise required a high level of organisation and safety awareness, because it involved using high voltage electrical systems.

The exercise was especially rewarding and interesting because it introduced us to a new and dynamic area of field geology; and combined the use of high-technological equipment and structural stereonets, with more fundamental geological observation to solve a specific engineering problem.

Sedimentological Section Measuring and Logging
One day was spent measuring and logging a sequence of Upper Carboniferous interbedded limestone and sandstone exposed in Swindale Beck, using an Abney Level and Jacobs Staff. The group spilt into pairs and worked independently on two adjacent sections of the stream.

This was a very interesting and useful exercise, because it introduced us to a new method of section measuring; and gave us an opportunity to present the micro lithological, stratigraphic and palaeontological observations as an illustrated log. It also presented the challenge of combining two independent sets of measurements into a composite piece of work, which required co-operation and help from all involved.

Underground Mapping in Sunnyside Mine
Three days were spent underground in an abandoned lead mine, mapping structural and mineralisation features of the Gillfield Level of Sunnyside Mine, Greenhow, North Yorkshire. Sunnyside Mine is now only used for underground fieldwork exercises by Leeds University and Imperial College students.

Underground mapping in the mine was undertaken in three exercises; all of which required accurate observations, measurements, geometrical understanding, and the precise plotting of the data gathered whilst still inside the mine. This involved a 1:100 and a 1:500 scale mapping exercises and a 1:50 scale vertical section measurement and interpretation exercise.

Mapping in the mine provided a unique and exciting opportunity to stand "inside" a fault zone, within the earth, and to feel and observe the geology in three dimensions. However, making a geologically sound interpretation of the geology in three dimensions was much more difficult than in two dimensions, and required a lot of discussion and teamwork to produce an accurate representation of the geology on our map. Working efficiently and with maximum group effort for extended periods of 3-4 hours underground in wet and cold conditions, with only battery-powered lamps, was especially challenging.

However, this underground experience, I believe, offered a tremendous opportunity to experience a sense of observing and feeling geological processes inside the earth. This heightened my understanding of 3D spatial orientation and relationships, and provided the ultimate team building experience in relatively uncomfortable conditions.


All of the exercises undertaken during the Appleby Field Technique Course were assessed on a group basis, and later modified by individual viva marks. Although, the assessed fieldwork contributes < 1% to the final degree classification, knowing that all of the field exercises were assessed heightened the challenge, especially over a 2 week period of prolonged group work with little free time. The fieldwork exercise provided a valuable opportunity to develop inter-personal skills and to learn how to establish a balance between social and academic achievement and enjoyment within the group.

Conclusion: What An Undergraduate Student Gains From Geological Fieldwork
The fieldwork experiences I have described have helped me integrate my theoretical learning with field based problem solving. It has increased and consolidated my knowledge and understanding of geology; and in particular, increased my enthusiasm for geology as my chosen career. It has also encouraged me to develop my own personal skills of working with, and learning from, others, in a variety of ways.

At an individual level, it has given me confidence in my approach, ability and enthusiasm to tackle and solve complex geological problems in the field, and to integrate both theoretical knowledge and field observations on a micro and macro scale.

At a group level, fieldwork courses present an ideal opportunity for getting to know members of the group both through working together and in a social setting. A group can give each individual a tremendous amount of encouragement and support, often through humour, when working in stressful conditions, because of a sense of "all being in it together".

Overall, I believe that the experience of geological fieldwork has provided me with an excellent foundation for my Individual Six-Week Mapping Project in Spain, during Summer '98, and for the future as a professional geologist.

I would like to express my thanks to members of the Geology Department, Imperial College, for their guidance, tolerance and humour during field-courses.

Fieldwork | Good Practice Keywords | Authors | Titles | Institutions | Home

Student-Led Fieldwork: The Consumer's Viewpoint

Graham Gardner & Fiona Bannister
The Institute of Geography and Earth Sciences, The University of Wales, Aberystwyth gsg5@aber.ac.uk fmb@aber.ac.uk

This article presents the viewpoints of two of the 'consumers' of student-led fieldwork. The Aberystwyth Geography field trip to Malta demonstrated that both knowledge and skills acquisition can be greatly enhanced by giving students a pro-active role and the opportunity to engage with 'real world' situations. Student projects were encouraged to be "innovative, original and exciting." The authors attempted to meet these goals through devising an historical tour, based on The Great Siege of Malta, 1565. This article aims to demonstrate that fieldwork can be much more rewarding and enjoyable than the time-honoured practice of dictated notes on stuffy buses.

The authors' previous experiences of geography fieldwork had produced mixed feelings regarding its value within undergraduate degree schemes. At their best, traditional "Cook's Tours" and lecturer-directed packages can enhance students' understanding and knowledge of themes across the discipline. Indeed, they remain an essential element in the student's learning experience. At the same time, the authors felt that sometimes the full potential of field days was not being met. This, it was believed, was due to two (often linked) factors: student apathy, and a reticence on the part of some lecturers to explore alternatives to established methods of learning.

The Aberystwyth University Geography Fieldtrip to Malta includes two components. The first three days involve the 'traditional' lecturer-directed approach, including note-taking on stuffy buses and windswept hillsides. This period of intensive learning provides the foundation for the second three days, which were a radical divergence from the author's previous experiences of fieldwork. This second, student-led component, is covered by this article.

The authors hope that this article demonstrates how, by utilising opportunities to take fieldwork out of the bus and literally into the field, it is possible to encourage student initiative; and how this can lead to a far more valuable experience and skills-gaining exercise than a more conventional fieldtrip will allow.

The handbook brief for the student-led section of the field trip was to produce, in three days, group projects that were "original, innovative and exciting." The first stage was to conceptualise the projects. Every student was ordered to brainstorm ideas and produce three potential project themes. These largely utilised observations made and hypotheses formulated from the taught section of the field course. Students then organised themselves into groups of four to six

. This initial brainstorming session had a number of advantages. First, the massive range of ideas that were forced out of the students meant that group projects could be drawn from a wide range of titles, which encompassed many sub-disciplines of geography.

Second, allowing students to form their own groups enabled complementary interests and skills to be brought together. Furthermore, it allowed people - by and large - to work with whom they liked; this increased both individual and group motivation.

Third, group work in itself has the potential to produce projects that are, to use a cliché, far greater than the sum of their parts.

This is not to say that this methodology was without problems. The wide divergence of interests within the student body meant that some groups found it difficult to decide on a project title. Inevitably, there were different levels of individual enthusiasm, which created problems for some groups. This problem had been anticipated, and partly accommodated through the option of marks being awarded either on a group or an individual basis. However, the latter case rather negates one of the objectives of the fieldwork, by not engendering a sense of group responsibility for a project.

Within the authors' group of six, there was a diverse range of interests, including the urban built form, historical geography, environmentalism and cultural geography. The project was devised to draw on all these interests and fully employed the skills possessed by the different members. In addition, it was based around a topic all group members were enthusiastic about: The Great Siege of Malta, 1565. The project - An Exclusive Historical Tour, based around sites that were actively involved in the Siege - was inspired by a number of themes:

Students were issued with a fearsome list of objectives for the group project, which the authors' group did their best to fulfil (whether the fieldtrip co-ordinator envisaged the authors doorstepping the town Mayor when he included "Communication Skills" on the list is open to question! Similarly, "Problem Solving" was centred on mastering the logistical intricacies of the island's bus system...)

The following section covers the realisation of the project. It illustrates the context in which student learning advanced - thus enabling something more than a simple 'run-down' of success or failure in meeting goals. By doing this, the authors intend to demonstrate how existing skills were built on, new skills were acquired and the concept of hard work was pushed to its upper limit. At the same time, it is shown that the best intentions can be foiled by adverse circumstances.

Day One
After discussing the day's objectives, the group split into pairs. Each pair was given the task of visiting one or more of the locations that played an important role in the Great Siege. They then had to devise one day's schedule for the Cultural Tour, centred on these locations. The day's tasks were as follows:

The authors explored the potential of the citadel of Mdina, a city that played a decisive role in the Great Siege. Research was carried out by visiting and assessing the suitability of sites and the pressures already upon them. Then, where appropriate, terms were negotiated with the management for granting a party of tourists exclusive access. Assertiveness and articulation skills were down to a fine art by the third explanation of what was required...

The evenings of the first two days were spent in comparing and sorting the information the group had gathered, and clarifying the next day's aims. Below is the provisional itinerary which was arranged for one day of the tour:

Day One: Mdina - 'The Silent City' 9.30am.
The Mdina Experience 10.15am.
Introductory Lecture : Mayor of Mdina, Vallera Palace 11.00am.
Morning Coffee : Caffe Medina 11.30am.
Travel to Verdalla Palace : Guided Tour 1.30pm.
Buskett Gardens : al fresco meal 3.00pm.
Mdina Cathedral : Tour 3.30pm.
Afternoon Tea : Fontanella Tea Rooms 4.00pm.
Cathedral Museum : Tour & Lecture : Canon John Azzopadi 6.00pm
Evening Meal : Ciapetti Tea Gardens 7.30pm.
Guided sunset tour : Proffessor Denis de Lucca; ending at the city bastions

Students were entirely unsupervised during the day and evening, and therefore the responsibility for getting the work done - and the quality of the work produced - was entirely their own. This independence generated self-confidence, because it demonstrated that students were trusted to behave like responsible adults.

However, it should be pointed out that a proportion of the success of this particular project (in areas such as interviewing local officials and tourist site managers) was due to the extremely helpful nature of the people encountered. It could easily have been different - and the authors understand that for some it was. The amount of ground it was possible to cover in a day was quite severely restricted by the limitations of Malta's delightful but antiquated bus network; although, due to the state of the roads, cycling or driving would have been hazardous.

Day Two (Sunday)This day proved frustrating, as virtually everywhere was closed. However, it brought home something which it is easy to overlook: students abroad are guests of a country, which will be home of individual people who hold their own values, customs and beliefs. Malta is not simply somewhere organised for the convenience of outsiders, and it should not be treated as such. However, it was necessary to rearrange the day's schedule, and this did mean that the day's objectives could not be fully met. It is felt that co-ordinators of future fieldtrips should take into consideration the days of the week on which student-led fieldwork is to take place. Adaptability to circumstances is all very well, but the lack of anything to adapt to caused several members of the authors' group to suffer a temporary loss of motivation.

Day Three
The final day was spent in making up for lost time, and then carrying out the final assimilation and synthesis of information. These latter processes were found to be one of the most valuable aspects of the field trip. The nature of the authors' project and the large quantities of information gathered, necessitated several different working styles: individually, in pairs and finally coming together as a group to integrate approaches and ensure the cohesiveness of the project. Here, the benefits of detailed field notebooks, good intra-group communication, and a slight element of panic at the looming deadline, combined to create a highly productive and efficient, pressured working environment.

The Grand Finale was yet to come - the presentation of the projects to the students and staff. Despite extreme tiredness, group enthusiasm was still strong and it was decided to continue the slightly unconventional tone of the project. Thus, the commercial break, with 'refreshments,' for Colt's Military Tours was born. Fundamental to the preparations was the purchase of a large volume of cheap wine. According to which member of the group was spoken to, the wine was to either:
a) Create the correct ambience for the presentation, or
b) Inebriate the staff and students, allowing them to relax and 'fully appreciate' the presentation.
Each group member contributed orally to the presentation, and the group were very happy with their team performance.

Every group adopted unique approaches for their presentations which fitted the nature and content of their particular project. What could have been a tedious embarrassment for all - like some of the authors' previous experiences of fieldwork presentations - turned out to be one of the highlights of the fieldtrip. It was both enjoyable and demonstrated the enormous efforts and enthusiasm that had gone into each project, and the increased confidence and skills of the participants.

On returning to Aberystwyth, follow-up work ensured that students continued to acquire new skills. This included using Desk-Top Publishing to produce a project report and then designing either a poster or a web page (the authors' group's website can be accessed at: http://www.aber.ac.uk/~maltavft/ftrip/). In addition, the authors' group drew on a hitherto untapped skill - creative writing - to produce a 'Tour Brochure.'


It is hoped that this article has illustrated some of the pros and cons, from a consumers point of view, of student-led fieldwork. The authors feel that student-led fieldwork, in conjunction with more traditional approaches, provides students and lecturers with a rich resource through which both knowledge and skills can be greatly enhanced. In particular, it enables students to engage with the 'real life' situations which are the basis of geography.

For us, it totally changed our perception of what geography fieldwork can - and should - be.

Fieldwork | Good Practice Keywords | Authors | Titles | Institutions | Home

Student Perceptions of Field Courses.

P D Talbot-Jones & A. Albans
The Institute of Geography and Earth Sciences, University of Wales, Aberystwyth.

The authors attended the University of Wales Institute of Geography and Earth Sciences Second Year Geography Students Field Course to Malta, during Easter 1997. The observations and comments are purely their own interpretations and opinions, and do not necessarily reflect the intentions of the University of Wales staff directing the Field Trip (See Grattan et al., this volume).

It would be wise if the background of the two authors is laid down so that their observations and comments can be put into context. Peter Talbot-Jones is a mature student, a retired soldier who lives not too far from the college and has had a career in Intelligence and in military training establishments. Alex Albans is a "normal" student who lives "in" at the University.

The preparation for the field trip was not exhaustive and the whole concept of the field trip was for students to find out about the country before-hand and to make an informed choice regarding clothing and personal gear, however, some guidance was given regarding the minimum requirements for specific matters such as field notebooks etc.

The Field Trip - Comments

Peter: As a visitor to Malta for the first time, it was good to see a whole nation during a single visit. I'm sure we missed some things but we saw most.

Alex : The idea of investigating a whole country in less than a week was appealing, and on the whole successful. I wouldn't go as far as describing Malta as particularly strange or exotic though.


Peter : We enjoyed guest lecturers from the local university both in the evening and during the field trip itself, it was beneficial, and entertaining!

Alex : I felt the guest lectures to be a rather pointless extension to an already long and tiring day. The information we learned from them would have been of more benefit before we went to Malta.

During the first three days of the field course the whole of the group travelled on a local coach to various locations where one of the staff would introduce a subject, then allow us to carry out observational, analytical and deductive activities as appropriate then gather for a discussion and critical analysis of our work by the staff. In between these locations there would be shorter familiarisation visits and during the moves students were expected to observe and make notes on activity.

Peter: Quite often we were unable to get off the bus quickly enough so that we missed the directions given at the stops, whilst on the bus it was physically impossible to write on an over-sprung bus travelling too fast on badly made roads.

Alex: We spent far too much time travelling to sites where we only stayed for short periods of time. It may have been more beneficial to spend slightly longer at a site and investigate it more thoroughly

Generally, the practice of not planning and checking all details prior to the "Cook's Tours" approach makes for irritable and tired students who spend a lot of time running around, jostling for position to take notes, and trying to get on the bus so that it can race to the next point. Compression of too many activities into too short a time gives an adverse impression to the students.

Field sketching was an activity carried out by the group during each substantial stop except once. During a visit to M'dina we had just finished a discussion about our observations when students were told " Quick, everybody make a field sketch of the view from the ramparts, you have 5 minutes!" The area visible from the ramparts included over 60% of the land mass of Malta island, including Valetta, other towns, and features including quarries, airports, harbours.

Peter: Field sketching is something I have done for over twenty years. I was happy to do the field sketching required in most locations except M'dina. Here the view took in too much detail, and 5 minutes could not do the subject justice, no matter how skilled the person recording.

Alex: Having to assess an area or landscape in a very short time helped develop my observation and analytical skills.

Generally field sketching is not taught as a skill in Aberystwyth, whilst in the Armed Forces it is taught as a highly desirable skill, and to expect students to develop this skill in the field, under pressure and without tuition is perhaps a mistake. Some guidance and practice during the run-up to the trip might have been useful.

Peter: The idea that you need to need to find work to keep students out of the bars is not necessarily a good one. Those who are intent on going for a drink will do so irrespective of the workload presented. Those who work well will complete the task and still have time for a drink if they wish.

Alex: I managed to keep up with my field notebook, so didn't have to go to the trouble of rewriting it at night. The night life of St Julians' didn't appeal quite as much as my bed.

"..AND DON'T FORGET TO WRITE YOUR ESSAYS TONIGHT."(THAT'LL KEEP THEM OUT OF THE BARS AS WELL).Peter: The essays were a good way to collect your thoughts for the day, and one of the few ways in which you can allow non-academic observations and humour to enter your work; after all the field notebook is an aid to memory retention, not a comedy script, but humour must be shown somewhere! I also managed to make it to the bar

Alex: After a very long day in the field and having written down my observations in a field notebook, it seemed rather pointless to repeat what I had just written. By the time I'd done this, all I wanted was sleep!


In all cases there were good points as well as bad:

Peter: I enjoyed the visit to the "Cart ruts" in Malta very rewarding, we were broken into groups and had to construct a hypothesis or hypotheses to account for the formation of these physical features. After researching the physical aspect of the cart ruts we re-assembled in an underground cavern where each group presented their hypothesis in turn, and then the group was asked to vote for the hypothesis they considered to be the most feasible. (Mine won!)

Visiting the ancient walled cities of M'dina and Citadella held special appeal to me, coming from an urban geographical background. I enjoyed being told about its history, and the relationship with the physical landscape. I found having to analyse the tourism potential of each site, and balance it with conservation a good focus.

The field trip to Malta was enjoyable, and rewarding. The idea of testing the students all the time can be wearing, as can asking how they feel about their own skills, which added to the frazzle factor. This course and the staff approach, avoided the biggest mistake on field trips which is to lead students by the nose, and to wrap them in cotton wool. If staff prevent a student from working when it is raining or a little cold, and do not allow them to use their own initiative or satisfy their curiosity, then the student will accept that as the norm, and not be proactive. (Field courses in the rain reduce the need for laundry facilities!)

Fieldwork | Good Practice Keywords | Authors | Titles | Institutions | Home

Unfamiliarity as a Learning Experience : a Personal View from The Canary Islands

Alastair A. Vaan
(Undergraduate at University of Leicester) now at University of Southampton, Department of Oceanography A.A.Vaan@soc.soton.ac.uk

The author's own experience of a week long residential field trip is used to illustrate benefits of placing a field course prior to a series of lectures. The course structure and use of the fieldwork to form the foundation of a lecture course are emphasised as leading to major benefits that are often ignored. The development of the student is also placed in context of learning key aspects such as reasoning and critical evaluation of ideas - a "geological eye". A blind approach, removing preconception, facilitates this to a greater degree than might be achieved with a course following a module's indoor content. In addition, the field course is often not integrated well enough into the accompanying lecture/practical series. An opportunity to use physical experience alongside more conventional techniques is lost.

The teaching of fieldwork throughout three years of an earth sciences degree should naturally reflect the student's increasing awareness of their respective subject. All too often though, the chance is missed to really test the student's ability to reason problems without preconception. In many cases however, a blind approach to a situation is both applicable and beneficial, representing an opportunity to simulate situations likely to be reproduced many times over in a career. The timing of such fieldwork can also be used to reinforce ideas from an experience perspective, as opposed to the rather more detached ideas taken aboard during lectures.

From my own experience at Leicester University an example is presented of a week long course in the Canary Islands on Physical Volcanology

Course detail
The single third year module in Physical Volcanology comprised a week long course in the Canary Islands and was followed by a series of ten lectures supported by practical sessions making a total of 3 hours a week for a single semester. Course numbers were restricted and students were selected by academic ability. The course was designed to introduce a number of concepts relevant to the subject from deposit morphology to geohazard appraisal. The last two days of the week were spent pursuing data for projects to be followed up during the term. Daytime progress was discussed in an informal evening environment usually accompanied by a video and discussion of project directions for later in the week.

Blind fieldwork and timing
Due to the fieldwork preceding the lecture course, the material introduced in the field was unfamiliar to the group, when compared to a course following up a series of lectures. Ideas were introduced following fresh observations made at outcrop allowing students to test their own geological reasoning without preconception. The self validation of a student's own capabilities in the field is as important as any assessment mark and this is easily done in such an environment.

Field courses should not be exclusive to this aim, but should be well aware that this development is valuable and should be a by-product of the course structure. The improvement of such a "geological eye" should be pushed throughout a student's academic career, for it is more useful than any exam answer.

When lectures and practicals began, concepts introduced in the field were reinforced and material from the field was used in projects. The student therefore has a bank of physical experience to complement the information taken in during subsequent lectures, practicals and reading. It also provides a framework for the lecturer that can be related to that physical experience, a much stronger medium than any slide or OHP transparency. Practicals revolved around standard introduction to specimens and maps/photos but with rocks already seen in outcrop a basis for comparison is already in place and as such exercises become less abstract than is usual in the lab.

This approach should not be restricted to week long trips in subjects new to students. The placing of fieldwork prior to a lecture course, which then implicitly uses material from that course as an element of the following sessions is as important as approaching the field blind. Some subjects will have less foundation than others from previous years learning. The scale is not important either. Much fieldwork is done as a solo entity. Assessment takes place in the field, or is left to be reported in a follow-up essay. This is important, but much of the benefit gained from the trip is then lost. Notebooks are placed on shelves and forgotten and reports disappear into the lecturer's marking ether. The wealth of material that is produced by fieldwork is an extra learning medium and it should not be lost in a mire of lecture notes.

One day trips are excellent for this type of approach. Many are undertaken and although related to a specific course, are not usefully referenced by it. A local field trip can be used as a project source. An initial trip might be used to give a student group a feel for the area and a follow up day could be used as an opportunity for data collection for a project that would parallel a lecture course.

Future plans
The course I experienced was the first of its type at Leicester University. The course director expects it to evolve and the structure is under constant review. Plans to include visiting lecturers to provide variation in insights and approach accompanied by changes in venue should keep the course (and its leaders) as fresh as possible. Leicester is also planning to introduce a scheme of staff rotation across its field trips preventing entrenchment and improving staff development, including broader awareness of the complete undergraduate course.

I found the Volcanology field course the most educational that I attended during my undergraduate career. The timing allowed me to view the lecture course as supplementing, not founding, my knowledge and the course did much to increase self confidence in my own reasoning (including critical evaluation of other's ideas). A blind approach presents an opportunity to vary fieldwork from the usual "look-see" format that is common to 1st and 2nd year fieldwork. It also presented me with the material before I might have been numbed by an involved, theoretical series of lectures. I believe fieldwork should result in far more than a full notebook.

I would like to thank Dr. Mike Branney and Dr. Jan Zalasiewicz for leading the course and especially to Dr. Branney, for allowing me to use the course as my example. I am also grateful to both for a large portion of inspiration through my undergraduate career.

Fieldwork | Good Practice Keywords | Authors | Titles | Institutions | Home

Professional Fieldwork - The BGS Perspective

Tim Charsley
British Geological Survey, Keyworth, Nottingham NG12 5GG

One of the things that has distinguished geology from many other professions is that the first degree remains for many the entry to a professional career. And even for those who go on to postgraduate degrees, the first degree course may represent their only major exposure to fieldwork. This is why it is so critical for the universities to turn out geology graduates who have covered a broad syllabus of geology tied to fieldwork. How is the quality of the fieldwork element to be judged? For employment in industries where there is a requirement for field studies, the simple test is whether the new graduate can walk up to an exposure on a building site in central London or one in a dry river bed in the Simpson Desert of Australia and tell someone else, usually an engineer, but it may be a developer, a planner or a non-professional, what the material is and what it means for the job in hand. This is the essence and the test of the fieldwork which you teach or are taught. Can it pass this basic 'field' test?

Concern amongst employers is twofold. Firstly, that financial pressures on departments of geology may cause cutbacks in fieldwork and hence squeeze out those elements which employers consider essential. Secondly, that financial pressures on students may make the more able think twice about courses where they have additional expenses not incurred by their fellow students. Statements like the following indicate that we are right to be concerned. This is a quote from an article in the Geoscientist concerning the findings of a recent Working Party into "what is a geologist?". And here we have the question/problem in a nutshell.

"The Working Party was surprised to find that geologists in industry place greater stress on the importance of field training than did those in universities."

"Academic geologists took a much more relaxed view of the importance of field-based training."

Professor R C Selley, November 1997. (Geoscientist, Vol. 7, No. 11, p.4)

Their conclusion, and it is one that is difficult to argue with, is that a professional geologist is characterised by having a set of skills which are "particularly effectively acquired by fieldwork in general, and field mapping in particular." It could be put in another way as -

fieldwork is the necessary tool kit for the craft of geology
- true now as ever it has been.

BGS as an Employer
The chart below showing numbers of BGS recruits over the last 10 years can be seen as a sort of snapshot of BGS as an employer. Overall, BGS employs about 500 geoscientists, of which about two-thirds are involved in fieldwork and about 100 are in the field-dominated geological mapping programme. In spite of computers on everyone's desks, there is thus still a steady, if never enormous, requirement for 'new blood' field geologists. And in 1997 so far (the pale grey bar), most recruits have been for field-related work; over the last 10 years about half of the 180 new entries have been to carry out field-related tasks.

Geology Graduate AttributesLooking specifically at the geological mapping programme, what are the attributes and skills BGS look for in our recruits. Inevitably, the following is probably a gross generalisation, but there are lessons BGS has learnt and these may be of interest. Firstly, what are the attributes that we can rely on which new young staff will bring?

Above almost everything else, all have an interest and often a love of fieldwork and the 'Outdoors'. Generally, this has been gained through field studies and courses held in Scotland or Wales or increasingly in some exciting overseas location. Nonetheless, it is there all the same. Secondly, all come with a lot of experience of hard rocks having seen quite a spectrum on field trips with their Geology Departments. Thirdly, all have been exposed to maps in the field, both geological and topographical. This is an aspect which also comes up later in a broader context. Finally, almost all will have seen a broad range of sedimentary structures and other sedimentological aspects in the field.

The above are the positive aspects which prove that the fieldwork training at universities achieves a lot across a wide range of courses. There is, though, a downside. Where do the field-related groups find gaps which have to be filled when graduates join BGS?

Necessary Skills
Maps have already been referred to as something all graduates have experience of. However, many new recruits are not totally at home with some aspects of maps. Swapping and using different scales seems to be a common problem, especially where most of their mapping has been done using single scales such as 1:25K, so that they may have difficulty when faced with working in the field with scales such as 1:50K (common scale in the developing world), 1:1,250 (the main UK urban scale) or 6 inch to 1 mile (common for old UK maps). Map reading used to be universally taught at primary or secondary levels, but this is no longer the case. Many of our recruits have learnt these skills only from being in the Scouts or Guides. Aspects such as latitude and longitude and map projections may well not have been covered during their education, and they may not have seen even as simple a surveying aid as an Abney Level.

It is widely known that BGS relies on geomorphological/landform or 'feature mapping' as our main field mapping technique. We provide new graduates coming in to the mapping programme with an initial 5-6 weeks training in this technique. Those who adapt best and settle soonest are those who have experience of recording and interpreting landforms in the field. This aspect is left out of far too many field mapping courses at university where exposure mapping seems too often to be the norm..

Are soils geology or are they geography? They are always there, in gardens and fields, and they are always at the top of every exposed section. Ignorance is widespread amongst new geology graduates.

Soils lead naturally into the whole field of Quaternary geology, and superficial deposits in particular. This is a huge gap in the knowledge of graduating geologists. Few graduates appear to have ever logged a section in unconsolidated deposits, let alone know how to record or interpret the sedimentary features they might find in them. It is an interesting aside to note that, in the areas currently under survey by BGS throughout the UK, 60% of the surface area is underlain by Quaternary unconsolidated deposits. So that there should be no question of their importance to professional geologists practising in this country.

The field auger is perhaps the most simple of drilling tools, of relevance to the investigation of both solid and drift geology. Few graduates have ever used one in anger in the field. This lack of awareness is to some extent true of drilling and boreholes generally. Some graduates have no knowledge of drilling techniques, and many have never logged a borehole core, or been to a drill site and been asked to determine the underlying strata from bags of mud or chippings presented to them by a driller or an engineer.

Finally, weathered rock is present everywhere, and most rock exposures show the effects of weathering. This can be very confusing to even experienced geologists, and some basics need to be taught and demonstrated in the field.

The above is quite a long list, so what advice can be given. Perhaps the first thing is to look closely at the list and ask how your field studies rate. Secondly, and probably the most important aspect, is that from the experience of recent graduates it appears that many universities do not exploit the geology on their doorsteps very well. Although this is being addressed by many, it is too commonly overlooked. In addition, it is likely that financial pressures could force many departments to take a closer look at the potential of this valuable teaching resource.

Geology on the Doorstep
Where to go and what to see can be a problem but there is an increasing literature available (GA Guides, SSSI Reports, and there is also the on-going publication of the forty-two JNCC Geological Conservation Review volumes for most parts of the geological column, RIGS Reports, and local Geological Society Guides). In addition, BGS is active in most parts of the country, so that getting to know the surveyors in your regions on a personal basis may be a way to learn about new and old geological sections in pits, quarries, stream sections, road cuttings etc. which are not featured in any literature. Mutual benefits could well accrue from increasing contacts between those in university involved in field studies and BGS mappers.

Fieldwork | Good Practice Keywords | Authors | Titles | Institutions | Home

Fieldwork in the Earth Sciences

Leslie Wright
v-p (exploration) Mano River Resources; visiting-fellow; University of Southampton.

Setting the scene
Fieldwork training in many British Earth Sciences courses has, in many ways, always been the jewel in the crown! It is the promised experience which motivates many students to register for courses in the first place and it is the experience which they are most likely to remember years afterwards when their career has long since moved them away from the subject material.

Fieldwork has been of even greater significance the last few years of increasing student numbers while paradoxically its necessity has been increasingly questioned within institutions due to its high cost. University administrations love affair with a flawed Research Assessment Exercise tied to funding and their consequent neglect of encouragement for the modernisation of course delivery, has left traditional lecture-based courses still basically unchallenged as the preferred mode of information dissemination.

With three figure student groups there is little place in a lecture-based format for students to question, think and work things out for themselves; unless backed up by totally cost-ineffective levels of tutorial and seminar provision as attempted in the collegiate system. However, in Earth Science courses the fieldwork component has always fulfilled the role of intellectually motivating students in a very effective manner; with students, staff and demonstrators cooped up together in a hotel, field centre or bar there is a more than an odds on chance that most students will be able to discuss something with someone. Let us not underestimate this experience. Thousands of students have gained tremendously from simple participation in Earth Science fieldwork.

However, it has to be pointed out that on the traditional field course the benefit is never evenly spread and the fittest and pushiest students usually gain most. As a student demonstrator many years ago I was responsible for trying to ensure on 10's of field trips that the vast majority of students not up with the party leaders at least understood the rudiments of field observation; not an easy task in that type of environment! 'some students never were quite able to hear what the lecturer was telling them about that grey cliff up ahead because they were always too late to hear the beginning of the rock-face lecture!' And a number of them 'got their notebooks all soggy from the rain on the last day meaning they had to all copy out little Alice's notes (she is such a conscientious note taker and never misses a word!)' As a result they were all able to write up their reports (they all got II(I) grades you know) and they were all able to answer the doddle of a question on the 'end of year' exam paper. The trip was therefore a great success!

Not really fulfilling the function it was intended to was it; thus not surprising questions are asked. That there have been many improvements to teaching techniques since 'those days' which have made many field courses much more effective is certain. However, my feeling is there are still many field courses which differ little from my own experience; and, if so, these courses will continue to remain targets for administrations looking for cuts. Hopefully however, there are signs, that with the higher profile now given to teaching and learning research by the funding authorities looking for improvements in efficiency, the emphasis of university administrations is also beginning to change and teaching methodology will become of greater importance to career Earth Scientists within institutions.

Traditional fieldwork can survive into an era of learning strategies and facilitators, and could considerably enhance its present elevated position with students if field teaching techniques continue to develop to teach professional skills rather than to disseminate factual information. However, there is also a place for a much wider and less prescriptive series of fieldwork options for Earth Sciences students.

What does the student stand to gain from fieldwork?

Most existing field trips fall into three categories, generally as a progression:

Most existing field trips fall into three categories, generally as a progression:


On the first point Tables 1-3 summarise the main skills required for an exploration programme and the point at which each skill is required; although no time scale is included a 7 year start to mine time-scale can be assumed. It is to be noted that many of the range of skills required in the first few years of an exploration programme are freely available as modules in many geography courses; although not, I am sure, taught with a geological bias. However, probably because of the overload of traditional core subjects considered as essential by many geology departments, very few geologists and Earth scientists appear to have access. Yet such subjects as remote sensing interpretation and GIS systems are absolutely fundamental for modern exploration geologists; skills without which the job cannot really be satisfactorily undertaken.

Second, modern exploration and any Geological Survey or Government geological mapping programme makes fundamental and increasing use of remote sensing imagery, either air photographs or satellite imagery (Tables 4-6). Geophysical and geochemical data must also be interpreted in the light of known geological information. All this invariably with respect to a size of area and a scale of mapping which rarely, if ever, forms part of higher education fieldwork training.

The traditional geological mapping skills which form the main part of almost all geological fieldwork training in higher education in this country only come into their own in a mineral exploration programme at a point where a serious target has been defined and a detailed geological map and geometrical model is required. Even at this point geological interpretation of air photographs and assimilation of other remote sensing data, geophysics and geochemistry; plus plotting on GIS systems is required; skills rarely taught in UK courses. Not surprisingly then that geologists rarely find mineral deposits; they are simply not equipped with the skills to do so and because they simply do not have the related non-geological skills to move sideways into a related minerals industry job it is not surprising they are often the first to be made redundant at the end of every exploration boom! (as at the present time)

No, a fixed curriculum designed for the minerals industry; or the oil industry; or for Geological Surveys for that matter, by institutions, is not the way forward; nor should institutions consult too closely with the industry. Rather students should be allowed a much higher level of flexibility with regard to the modules they complete within the total range of Earth science/ Earth studies/ economics/ engineering/ geology/ geography/ glaciology/ mining/ oceanography/ etc. modules; with a significantly reduced core curriculum. Also, as an aside, students should be able to collect a degree from a number of separate institutions enabling them to search expertise where it occurs.

It must also be debatable whether most of the fieldwork at present considered as a core subject should not be made a module just like any other subject. Geological field mapping is, at the end of the day, simply another skill amongst many in the range of marketable Earth Sciences skills, and one which leads to very few industry jobs. On the other hand, that an Earth Scientist cannot truly be qualified as an Earth Scientist without fieldwork experience in some form or other is also beyond doubt. Fieldwork components should thus be designed, as far as possible, to complement the modules, or in some cases to be modules in themselves. Students should be required to do a certain amount of fieldwork within any degree, but not necessarily any particular type of fieldwork. In this respect serious consideration must be given to looking at the way innovative geographical fieldwork has been developing in the last few years!

On a positive note the movement by a number of institutions in recent years towards combined Earth Studies or Earth Sciences institutes; Aberystwyth, Imperial College and Southampton spring to mind; must be commended! However, it is to be hoped that more Geology departments around the country will start seriously to talk to their nearest Geography Departments on how they may be able to co-operate more closely in the teaching of skills of benefit to all Earth Scientists!

Although what Swansea Geography; one of the best geography departments in the country, and Cardiff Geology; recently the best-liked source by employers of exploration geologists in the country, are supposed to do;

I really do not know!

Table 1
Stages of a Mineral Sector Project

Aims &








  • selection of country,
    commodity and retion
  • approach to Government
  • selection of area,
  • reconnaissance permits
  • target area selection,
    exploration permits

  • prospect definition

  • resource assessment

  • reserve definition

  • mine planning

  • grade & ore control
  • reserve extension

Table 2
Considerations and Appropriate Expertise for a Successful Mineral Sector Project.

Expertise required
regional/global economics
mining law
transport studies
global tectonics
palaegeographic analysis
environments of
utility provisions
modern languages
management skills
remote sensing
regional geophysics
reconnaissance geol. mapping
satellite image interpretation
GIS systems
geological mapping
4-dimensional interpretation
sampling techniques
statistical analysis
data manipulation
mine economics
mineral processing
mining techniques
mine engineering
commodity prices & markets
political risks
communication/negotiating skills
legal framework minerals sector
project proposals
assessment of existing data
reconnaissance visits
project team construction
satellite image processing & interpretation
regional geological mapping
orientation geochemistry
stream sediment/BLEG geochem.
Infrastructure provision/economics
orebody modelling
sample collection and analysis
detailed geological mapping
3/4 dimensional model construction
beneficiation studies
mining method
underground/openpit geological
mapping and sampling
grade control

Table 3 Click on icon to see Table 3: Perception of Appropriate Expertise for Mineral Sector Projects by Degree Specialisation

Table 4 Click on icon to see Table 4: Regional Exploration

Table 5Click on icon to see Table 5: Detailed Exploration

Table 6Click on icon to see Table 6: Prospect Evaluation

Fieldwork | Good Practice Keywords | Authors | Titles | Institutions | Home