Geography Fieldwork is Not Mission Impossible, pp. 4 of 6

Geographical Inquiry

The Geographical Inquiry method has been advocated as a way around the strictly hypothesis testing fieldwork. It is also a strategy embraced by the curriculum planners of the new humanities curriculum at the MOE. Students tap on their prior knowledge and experience of a locality in order to formulate geographical questions, issues or problems as basis for fieldwork. They then apply their findings to issues and problems that have local immediacy so that application and transfer of knowledge is authentic. Collaborative learning can be enhanced when groups of students contribute information to form a “bigger picture” to their inquiry so that more angles of an issue or problem can be covered.

Discovery Learning

Discovery Learning is a wholly open-ended approach which allows students to find their own points of interest in the environment. An advantage is that discovery learning normally has a high level of engagement based on student interest. Students can develop and extend their investigative work which they deem important and interesting. However, the scope of fieldwork has to be properly determined beforehand. This is to ensure that students have the requisite skills to observe and formulate investigative questions. Otherwise, anxiety or boredom may set in.

Sensory Fieldwork

Sensory Fieldwork is often seen as most applicable in more remote environments. Van Matre’s (1979) work summaries the intent of sensory fieldwork as a strategy:

We feared entrapment by the idea that things are real only if they can be measured. Many of life’s most rewarding, enriching and heartfelt experiences can barely be put into words, let alone placed on a scale. If we relied too much on the usual processes of collecting and testing, what would happen to our goals of instilling a sense of wonder, a sense of place and reverence for life? If we failed to develop appreciations in our haste to convey understandings, if we over emphasised analytical skills at the expense of deep natural experiences, what would we gain – people who could take life apart, but cared nothing for keeping it together? (Van Matre, quoted in Job, Day and Smyth, 2002:17) 

A scheme put forward by Hawkins (1987) provides an idea of how different aspects of sensory fieldwork may be integrated with inquiry-based investigation. Please refer to Figure 1.

Figure 1 Fieldwork Model

An integrated model for outdoor education

Flowchart of an integrated model for outdoor education

Source: Hawkin (1987) cited in Job, Day & Smyth (2002)

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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