Innovating Field Trips – IFIT Erasmus+ Strategic Partnership
- Institute of Geography, Osnabrück University, Germany
- School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, College of Science, Engineering and Food Science (SEFS)University College Cork, Ireland
- Geology, Faculty of Sciences, University of Lisbon, Portugal
- Ceres International Aljezur Limited, Bishopton, United Kingdom
The field course is a signature pedagogy of the geological, geographical, biological and environmental sciences, but is in need of some rethinking (Higgs, 2007). The IFiT Partnership brings together academic and non-academic partners to launch a new, exciting standard of field-based learning by drawing from and connecting multiple disciplines, incorporating new and essential technologies and fostering cross-border cooperation.
The residential field courses will deliver on almost all Erasmus + priorities for student learning: they provide direct contact with 'real-world' environments, they equip students with an enhanced understanding of the inter-connectedness of science disciplines, whilst fostering the transferable and transversal skills necessary for employment. A residential field-trip abroad is highly motivating. It acts as a 'capstone course', allowing students to pull together and integrate prior learning within and between disciplines, so that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Students benefit from the unique opportunities for one-to-one contact with staff, the challenge of teamwork and the implementation of authentic research projects. A residential field trip abroad is typically the first transnational mobility activity for a student, building confidence and improving understanding of cross-cultural situations. It is an excellent opportunity for students to learn how to work together efficiently on projects by crossing traditional disciplinary boundaries, by using industry relevant technologies and by working with public authorities, NGOs and businesses.
In a recent survey, carried out in preparation for this project, university staff (n = 36) identified, financial and logistical obstacles which prevent or impede successful field experiences. Often novice field trip leaders are 'thrown in at the deep end' by their home institution when they first come to run their own course, without any specific training. The only preparation is to observe and help on a field trip carried out by a colleague, or fall back on their own experience as an undergraduate student. The lack of time available to organise an effective field course, together with new field safety requirements put in place in response to national and EU directives, are identified as major obstacles. New ideas are rarely integrated into the traditional field course approach. In short, Universities are missing out on an opportunity to transform the student's favourite learning tool: the field trip abroad.
Industry and local businesses are rarely involved in undergraduate field-based learning exercises. Pedagogy, logistics including health and safety, and student preparation for professional practice will all be greatly improved with contextualised staff development of field-course leaders through networking across institutions.
In summary, our main objectives are: 1. develop a format underpinned by evidence-based good practice for an interdisiplinary European field trip 2. launch the worldwide first accredited professional development course for field-course coordinators. The course itself will model good practice and involve exchange of knowledge between teachers working in different countries and different academic disciplines. 3. employ the latest GIS data collection and mapping applications (including smartphone) developed for field work. GIS is a common language between disciplines, and will be used to facilitate interaction between academic disciplines. 4. to establish a unique interdisciplinary, multinational field module.