From Classroom to the Field and Back: Understanding the Ways Fieldwork Empowers Geographic Learning, pp. 2 of 7

In Singapore, Chang (2012) has mentioned the importance of fieldwork and the ways it is conducted by teachers and researchers in contemporary geography education. Over time, the traditional ways of doing fieldwork in geography have changed significantly, with adoption of new and innovative methods and technologies. Further, it is important to note that at a time when Gillian Rose (1993) challenged the gendering of geographical fieldwork – often associated with able-bodied men, Goh and Wong (2000) noted that fieldwork in Singapore’s school have been organized by a high percentage of female geography teachers – within and outside of Singapore. Active learning through fieldwork in Geography has been given premium importance at the school level in Singapore with exciting opportunities for the investigation of both physical and human environments; the island nation provide geographers a dynamic outdoor learning lab.

In order to take benefit of Singapore’s diversity and dynamism, a one-day fieldwork excursion was planned as part of a second year B.A. course on urban geography taught at National Institute of Education (Singapore). The idea of this fieldwork was to facilitate inquiry based learning (Seow, 2013) through linking urban concepts taught in classrooms to everyday urban practices outside the classroom (see De Certeau, 1984).

From classroom to field

The main purpose of organizing this fieldwork was to examine classroom learning of urban concepts and applying them to understand on-ground realities. In turn, it was expected that it will help students better understand the concepts. As Tricia Seow (2013, p. 3) said – “fieldwork is a good way to unpack concepts.” Beyond unpacking, fieldwork also provides opportunities to apply methods to collect data and check their validity in relation to the context and larger purpose.

At the National Institute of Education, the Humanities and Social Studies Education (HSSE) Academic Group offers exciting geography courses in both content and pedagogy. During the middle of the fall semester of 2014, a one-day fieldwork experience was planned as part of a B.A second year urban geography course. This geography course, titled AAG 242: Urban Development & Change exposes students to several urban concepts in order to understand the contemporary and dynamic urban world. Among them, occupancy urbanism (Benjamin, 2008) liveability and urban informality were discussed, debated and very much appreciated in the class. Occupancy urbanism helps explain “the appropriation of surplus land by the poor groups in order to fuel small businesses whose commodities may jeopardize branded chains” (Benjamin, 2008, p. 719). Through occupancy urbanism, urban poor may assert territorial claims and practice everyday livelihood possibilities. Liveability is a concept that examines quality of life issues, such as the quality of physical environment, social well-being and economic prosperity. Aziz and Hadi (2007) defined a liveable city as “a vibrant and lively city where the communities enjoy congenial, pleasant and neighbourly multi-ethnic living environment, affordable, healthy and safe, with access to all the facilities they require and with a sense of belonging to the city” (p. 106). Urban informality is when modes of production are independent from formal frameworks of production. According to Bayat (2007) informality is the “habitus of the dispossessed” (p. 579). Keith Hart (1973) argues that with the lack of formal opportunity, “the urban sub-proletariat seek informal means of increasing their incomes” (p. 67). 

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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