The Role of Geographical Investigations In Developing Students’ Cognitive Thinking, pp. 2 of 11

Value of Geography Fieldwork in Cognitive Development

In educational psychology, various learning theories have been proposed to inform educators on students’ development and knowledge construction: Piaget’s (1954) cognitive development theory outlines the thought process students undergo to attain higher levels of cognition. This involves the formulation of schemas which accumulate and modify with age depending on one’s experiences. Apart from learners playing an active role in knowledge construction, Bandura (1986) and Vygotsky (1962) asserted the importance of external factors (specifically, culture, education and environment) in cognitive development: Activities which involve greater student participation, the presence of a supportive environment and more-skilled individuals tend to promote cognitive development. While these theories were largely formulated based on classroom settings, the concepts can still be applied to inform our understanding of learning in the field.

Fundamentally, Geography fieldwork is a form of experiential learning. When fieldwork is active rather than passive, more meaningful learning occurs and cognitive development is enhanced (Foskett, 1999). Mackenzie and White’s (1982) comparison of passive observational fieldwork and fieldwork involving active participation revealed that students involved in the latter could better retain knowledge and relate memorable episodes in fieldwork with Geography knowledge learnt. This improvement in cognition was reinforced by students’ affective development during fieldwork. Positive affective responses such as heightened interest, self-confidence and motivation were found to facilitate deep learning and higher-order cognition (Boyle et al., 2007; Entwistle & Smith, 2002).

The value of fieldwork in supporting cognitive development was further echoed in Kern and Carpenter’s (1986) study with college students in the United States: They found that students who participated in a field-oriented class performed better in subject-oriented tasks that required higher-order thinking skills, compared to those engaged in classroom-based learning. Nevertheless, differences in cognitive abilities were assessed based on the results of a 75-question written test (of which, 25 were open-ended questions). This was quite lengthy which may have affected students’ quality of answers and hence, the accuracy of results. Moreover, the study was conducted with an Earth Science class and field-oriented activities conducted would differ from those in Geography (especially in relation to Geography fieldwork in Singapore). Noting how there is limited research on the effects of Geography fieldwork (specifically, GI) on cognition, this study hopes to offer more insights on the role of GI on students’ cognitive thinking.

Charting Cognitive Thinking in Geography Fieldwork

For this study, an analytical framework was crafted to chart students’ cognitive abilities in GI (see Fig. 1):

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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