From Classroom to the Field and Back: Understanding the Ways Fieldwork Empowers Geographic Learning, pp. 5 of 7

After 3 hours of fieldwork through observation and photography methods, the student groups came back to Chong Pang community center from where the fieldwork began. Group 1 began deliberating about their experiences while other groups listened and wrote notes in their notebooks. The other two groups also shared their experiences. Students were excited to share their observations. While one student shared the way wider open spaces were provided along Blocks 101 and 102 with tree-lines to provide shade and an ample amount of chairs, especially for elderly residents to sit and relax – enabling them to enjoy a better quality of living (see Figure 3). Another student shared observing occupancy urbanism and using photography method to capture the theme (see Figure 4). Overall, students discussed the range of shops and other facilities that were available in the market and how shopping in Chong Pang market was livelier as against the everyday banality of shopping elsewhere (see Figure 5). Sharing of experiences on-site helped students relate their observations to the concepts that they learnt in classroom, and also to discover things beyond the concepts. Students realized that while the fieldwork provided them the opportunity to observe and capture examples of informality and occupancy urbanism, the context of Singapore provided another lens to look at these concepts in a different way than often described in textbooks and journal articles. After nearly an hour of sharing sessions, it was time for lunch and continuing the discussion at the lunch table.

Chicken biryani and images of Chong Pang market

Along with a great shopping experience, Chong Pang market has many popular food joints. While doing the fieldwork, we not only observed these food establishments but sampled their offerings as well. Having lunch at the site of fieldwork actually helped us to extend our fieldwork conversations during lunch. Students began sharing their photographs – the second method to capture the everydayness of the field-site. Photography, as part of visual method complemented the observation method. Students that observed situations that corroborated with concepts were excited to use photography techniques to capture those observations. Sharing of photographs from their camera and smartphones helped them learn about different angles, vantage points and their benefits in capturing everyday urban practices. As an instructor, it was exciting for me to watch sharing sessions led by students, buzzing with critical views about concepts such as informality, occupancy and liveability in relation to a traditional market (and not another ubiquitous shopping mall) in the heartland of Singapore. With the arrival of our lunch, the aromatic smell of saffron and spices engulfed our conversation and it was time for us to enjoy the famous biryani of Sami Banana at Chong Pang. It was time to participate and not only observe.

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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