For many students up and down the country, this school term would have included a geography field trip. Chris Webster, GetOutside Champion and owner of the Geography Fieldwork Academy, explains how just because we can’t travel currently, doesn’t mean we can’t investigate the world around us.
What is fieldwork?
Fieldwork is the tool that we use to investigate the characteristics of the real world around us. We can learn a huge amount from the classroom, the internet and from educational resources, but fieldwork gives students the chance to take ownership of their own learning from setting the actual aim of their fieldwork investigation to deciding how they will collect their information.
Developing a fieldwork aim
There must be a purpose to a fieldtrip or a fieldwork investigation. This is called the ‘aim’ and is essentially the title of the investigation, it is what the student is aiming to prove as a result of their fieldwork. One opportunity that students currently have in regards local and independent fieldwork is investigating how specifically their areas may have changed as a result of the movement restrictions imposed during the Coronavirus outbreak. Students could be encouraged to develop an investigation aim around the lines of; ‘How has the Coronavirus lockdown impacted my local area?’
Choosing appropriate methods to collect information
There are a huge range of different data collection methods which can each provide us with information about specific places. Many of these methods are simple to undertake, require no specialist equipment and can be easily completed anywhere, even from your house or garden or quickly during a daily exercise walk around your neighbourhood.
Traditionally, paper booklets and clipboards have been used to collect and store data but now students are able to use their electronic devices to gather survey results, interviews, decibel levels and even using specialist apps to identify plant species, air and marine traffic.
Chris and his colleagues from the Geography Fieldwork Academy recently developed the first Geography Fieldwork app designed specifically for students, GeogIT which includes 35 different methods of data collection and a detailed explanation of how to conduct each. The app allows students to electronically log all of their data, whilst also automatically logging the coordinates of where the data was gathered from. When the user is ready all of the data they have gathered is emailed directly to their inbox in organised, Excel files.
Methods which can be gathered from home or in your local area
Most of us are still currently confined to our own homes and local areas which restricts the fieldwork we can complete but if we are creative we can still gather some useful evidence showing the characteristics of our areas at this point in time, be that from simply looking out of the window to making the most of our daily exercise.
These could include for example:
1. METHOD: A pedestrian count.
METHODOLOGY: Record the number of people who pass a fixed point over a set period of time.
WHY: Shows how lockdown restrictions have impacted on number of people active in my local area.
2. METHOD: Traffic survey.
METHODOLOGY: Over a set time period record the vehicles that pass your house. Tally these in different categories such as lorries, cars, delivery vehicles, motorbikes, buses and vans.
WHY: You may expect to see a significant reduction in traffic but an increase in delivery vehicles?
3. METHOD: Wildlife survey.
METHODOLOGY: Keep a notebook by your window for a whole day and write an animal log. Record all the wildlife you see using a tally chart.
WHY: In some places in the UK wildlife has become more visible as humans stay indoors.
It is important to remember, that if we are to undertake fieldwork investigating the impact of the Coronavirus lockdown, not only should we gather information during this period, but we will also need to gather the same fieldwork when things return to normal. This will provide us with a context and comparison of the extent to which the area changed.
Fieldwork investigations are by their very nature an opportunity for students to complete independent, unique work. Therefore, students should choose to present their information in formats that they consider most appropriate. However section 3 in this fieldwork support document produced by the Royal Geographical Society gives a wide range of ideas.
By Chris Webster
Chris is a geographer and coastal fieldwork leader, connoisseur of millionaire shortbread!