From Classroom to the Field and Back: Understanding the Ways Fieldwork Empowers Geographic Learning

Fieldwork is an integral part of learning Geography. Fieldwork has been widely used in both research and as pedagogic approaches as it provides a platform for students to understand their classroom content in a better way and help them to become real geographers. This article begins with understanding fieldwork in geography, touching its importance in contemporary human geography, and then describes the ways a one-day fieldwork was planned, prepared and performed in Singapore to understand human geography concepts. The fieldwork helped students experience concepts through everyday urban practices and apply geographic methods into practice. In the conclusion, students’ perspectives about what they learnt and the ways it complemented their classroom learning is discussed.

Introduction

Fieldwork is a means of collecting information and involves engagement with the outside world beyond the classroom (Phillips & Johns, 2012). As Cindi Katz (2009, p. 251) observed, fieldwork can be “a means towards examining the relationships between people and their environments”. Fieldwork in geography helps us document these experiences and their complex relationships. Fieldwork is an integral part of Geography with a long historical tradition in both geographic research and teaching. It not only provides an opportunity for the student to understand classroom content, it also helps in training students about conducting fieldwork, set-up equipment (especially for physical geography fieldwork), and learn the relevant skills of interviewing and interacting with people in real settings. Fieldwork contributes toward students’ personal development, social skills and ecological and political literacy (Job et al., 1999). According to Phillips and Johns (2012), fieldwork differentiates the genuine geographer from the not so genuine one. Fieldwork has been seen as the bridge between theories and practical concepts (Kent et. al, 1997).

The importance given to fieldwork in geography education has been influenced by many prominent geographers around the world. Carl Sauer (1956) argued that the fundamental training of the geographer should come from fieldwork. Sauer transformed the fieldwork tradition in American geography education (Phillips & Johns, 2012). Beyond North America, fieldwork has a very long tradition in the United Kingdom, pioneered by the Royal Geographical Society and very much integrated into the university and college level geography education system (Phillips & Johns, 2012). Beyond the western world, fieldwork has been incorporated into the geography education system, and is seen as a tool that encourages engaging, creative and independent learning processes (see Goh & Wong, 2000). In Southeast Asian contexts, Goh and Wong (2000) said that learning geography without fieldwork would be seen as “deficient” (p 99).

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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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