How does it feel? The affective domain and undergraduate student perception of fieldwork set in a broad pedagogical perspective

Tiernan Henry, John Murray


Fieldwork in the earth sciences is much valued by students, teachers and prospective employers alike, yet it has been reduced as a component of many undergraduate programmes in recent times. This study presents the results of an investigation of the undergraduate student perception of fieldwork, specifically in the context of the affective domain, and considers the effectiveness of field-based training as a pedagogical tool. Fieldwork provides the learner with a deep and immersive learning environment, where they are required to apply knowledge and theory acquired in class to the natural world, and to then analyse its validity. Strong spatial and temporal reasoning skills are routinely employed, and construction of maps is central to the learning experience, as it requires students to carefully observe their surroundings and make informed and reasoned decisions as to what is important and truly necessary to document. As part of this study students from a single higher education institution in Ireland were provided with anonymous questionnaires and polled for their opinions prior to and following a phase of residential fieldwork. The results clearly show an appreciation of not just the cognitive benefits, but also the transferable, technical and social skills developed and improved through their varied first-hand real world fieldwork experiences. These findings are much in keeping with those of previous studies. Overall, the student study group demonstrated enhanced affective domain responses to residential fieldwork: a recurring theme in the responses was recognition of the importance and value of sound observation and scientific rigor. These skills could subsequently be applied to many other areas of student learning, thus helping them to consolidate and integrate their knowledge base. The capacity of field training to transform the way students think was very evident – they became knowledge generators rather than just knowledge recipients.

Received: 21 March 2018
Accepted: 08 May 2018
Published online: 31 May 2018


affective domain; fieldwork; geoscience; geology; pedagogy; situated learning

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