IS FIELDWORK GOOD? AN ANALYSIS OF THE STUDENT VIEW
Despite the affection with which fieldwork is held, there remain suggestions that its role is set to diminish within universities in the UK and elsewhere. There are a number of drives for this: Firstly, it is argued that some earth science and related disciplines have been moving away from the need for fieldwork; partly due to changes in curriculum, but also to developments of technological alternatives to fieldwork, including remotely sensed data, GIS and virtual field exercises. Secondly, it is argued that the growth student numbers, combined with declining unit-funding, makes fieldwork too expensive. The subsequent need to charge students for fieldwork raising questions about whether field courses are equitable: Kent et al (1997) find that they can be manifestly unfair. Thirdly, it is argued that the teaching time commitment of staff on field courses detracts from their ability to conduct research.
There is some evidence that fieldwork is holding its own (Gold et al, 1991, Kent et al, 1997), but there is also a growing view that it is not sacrosanct. In a nutshell, there is a lack of rigorous research findings that can be called upon to support claims that fieldwork is good (Gold et al, 1991; Kent et al., 1997; Winchester-Seeto & Hart, 2000; Johnston and Cooke, 2001; Healey and Blumhof, 2001). This paper reports on a project that investigated the student view of residential fieldwork across a range of geology, geography and environmental science programmes in the UK. The project collected evidence using pre- and post-class questionnaires addressing the affective and academic domains. Statistical analysis of closed responses together with review of open text responses indicates that fieldwork is indeed good.