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Place-making and student identity in fieldwork learning

Project leader(s): 
Sarah Davies

The aims of this project are to evaluate student experiences of learning at field schools and to explore the connections between students’ conceptions of and engagement with ‘in the field’ learning, their (developing) identity as environmental scientists and the understanding of these concepts by OU academic teaching staff as professional environmental scientists and ecologists.

Fieldwork is seen as a crucial part of environmental science practice by academics and by professional bodies, such as the Institution of Environmental Sciences. Fieldwork learning is important for acquiring knowledge and for data collection, but also for engagement with learning and in developing attitudes, beliefs, and personal and transferable skills (Boyle et al, 2009; Kent et al, 1997). As such, it can be seen as part of becoming an environmental scientist and joining that community of practice.

Fieldwork has long been part of OU environmental science teaching, with technological developments over the past few years allowing us to explore ways of making this valuable ‘in the field’ learning more accessible to students. Whilst assessments of these interventions have been carried out, there is a need for further understanding of students’ experiences and engagement with fieldwork learning across the Hydrology and Meteorology and Vegetation and Soils field schools in the SXF206 Environmental Science module. 

SXF206 fieldschools are ‘place-based’ environmental learning experiences, a factor that may be of particular relevance to distance learning students that are not often otherwise collocated during their studies. I propose to explore whether concepts of ‘place-based education’ (Smith, 2017) and ‘place-based’ ecology (Billick and Price, 2010) can be useful for helping to understand the processes of fieldwork learning engagement and identity development.

The research questions for this project are:

  • What are students’ perceptions and experiences of place-based fieldwork learning in SXF206?
  • What role does ‘in the field’ learning play in students’ (developing) identity as environmental scientists?
  • How do staff professional identities and conceptions of fieldwork impact their teaching and student experiences?

The project will have two phases across two module presentations (SXF206 18J and 19J), with outputs of the first phase feeding into the review of 18J field teaching and the second phase investigating the 19J presentation.


Billick, I. and Price, M. V. (Eds) (2010) “The Ecology of Place: Contributions of Place-Based Research to Ecological Understanding” University of Chicago Press

Boyle, A., Maguire, S., Martin, A., Milsom, C., Nash, R., Rawlinson, S. and Conchie, S. (2007). Fieldwork is good: The student perception and the affective domain. Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 31(2), 299–317.

Kent, M., Gilbertson, D.D. & Hunt, C.O., (1997) Fieldwork in geography teaching: A critical review of the literature and approaches. Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 21(3), pp.37–41.

Smith, G.  (2017, July 27). Place-Based Education. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education. Ed.   Retrieved 23 Aug. 2018, from