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The impact of experiential fieldwork on learning Robert Rosenthal University of Sussex School of Education and Social Work Robert Rosenthal The purpose of fieldwork... To enhance geographical understanding? Positivist fieldwork Dominant enquiry model. Exam currency. Hypothesis based.

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The impact of experiential fieldwork on learning

Robert RosenthalUniversity of Sussex School of Education and Social Work

Robert Rosenthal

the purpose of fieldwork to enhance geographical understanding
The purpose of fieldwork...To enhance geographical understanding?
  • Positivist fieldwork
  • Dominant enquiry model. Exam currency.
  • Hypothesis based.
  • Teacher directed.
  • Focussed. Structured.
  • Isolation of variables.
  • Quantification.
  • Response through detachment. Objectivity desired.
  • Experiential fieldwork
  • Peripheral status and use?*
  • Limited exam credibility.
  • Open ended.
  • Student directed.
  • Un or semi structured.
  • Inter-connectivity (of factors, and geographer/world)
  • Response through engagement. Affective impact desired.
  • (*David Job 1999, Stephen Trudghill 2003)

Robert Rosenthal

to what extent can experiential fieldwork enhance academic attainment
“To what extent can experiential fieldwork enhance academic attainment?”

A positivist enquiry.


A2 Geography group. 12 students.

City & Islington 6th Form Centre;

Edexcel B (Curriculum 2000)

Robert Rosenthal

experience and the exotic
Experience and the Exotic
  • Distance/ journey/ a powerful signifier
  • Beyond comfort zone, risk, intensifies experiential impact
  • Morocco: most practical, resource effective per exotic location
  • BA, Marrakech, Kasbah Toubkal, Discover

Robert Rosenthal



Robert Rosenthal

statistical benchmarking
Statistical Benchmarking
  • Before fieldtrip:
  • Two assessed essays, levelled with Edexcel scheme AND micro analysed for frequency occurrences of indicators verbal markers.
  • Student expectations and pre-conceptions of Morocco mind-mapped
  • Student predicted grades and ALIS scores

Robert Rosenthal

approach to student learning
Approach to student learning
  • No ‘teaching’; convening exposure to experiences.
  • No student ‘work’; but daily requirement to complete a ‘learning journal’. Unguided except for final day when evaluation questions were given.
  • Optional daily Video Room, fed with focus questions by teachers.

Robert Rosenthal

after data
‘After’ data
  • Coded analysis of :
  • Essays written before and after the fieldtrip.
  • Learning Journals and Video Room transcripts.
  • Statistical analysis of A level module resit and final exam results.

Robert Rosenthal

  • Marrakech: Jemaa el Fnaa walk; souk walk; horse drawn ride around city walls; guided visit to tannery and walk through medina and souk.

Sound, smell, warmth, hustle, apprehension, looks, language, clothes, convention (eg men hold hands, how to cross unregulated roads)

Robert Rosenthal

  • Drive south into High Atlas to Imlil and Kasbah.
  • Walk around Asni market en route.
  • Three hour walk into mountains to visit neighbouring villages. Invited to tea in a village house.

Arid and Mountain Landscape, colour, heat, smell, exertion, terrain, language, faces, child play, object of curiosity, hospitality and kindness,

Robert Rosenthal

  • Two day trek into mountains, across snow line, overnight in mountain hostel.
  • Singing and dancing with mulateers.
  • Relationship with guide.
  • Day exploring Imlil, fields, irrigation, streets, school, souvenir shops, a hammam.

Exertion and hardship, heat, cold, camaraderie, singing & dancing, lantern light, sunrise, snow, admiration and awe, return to security of previously unknown.

Robert Rosenthal

  • A role play ‘for real’:
  • A dam and reservoir for the Imlil valley?

Empathy, transference, loyalty, concern, relevance of experiences and geography

The way home...

Relief, sadness, sense of achievement and insight, unsurpassed life changing experience,

Robert Rosenthal



Robert Rosenthal

our overall impression of each student s experience
Our Overall impression of each student’s experience
  •  Learning to respect another way of life and thereby reflecting on one’s own
  •  Reflecting on the way of life in Britain and South Africa (student’s country of birth)
  •  The difference between experiencing Morocco during a previous family visit
  •  The development of confidence to observe, comment and write about the world
  •  Developing an analysis of African under-development and pan Africanism
  •  A sense of genuine connecting with ‘living geography’
  •  An awed experience of the cultural difference.
  •  Eyes wide open and enjoying every experience
  •  Appreciation of life in Britain
  •  A vivid description of the land and cityscapes
  •  A challenge to all preconceptions of an LEDC
  •  Surprise and wonder at the tranquillity of the scenery

Robert Rosenthal

analysis of the learning journals video room transcripts and all essays
Analysis of the Learning Journals, Video Room transcripts and all essays
  • QUANTIFICATION OF CODES (multiple applications allowed):
  • 1. Use of terminology
  • 2. Exemplification/ specificity/ use of names
  • 3. Appreciate a range of values
  • 4. Analysis leading to a conclusion/answer
  • 5. Eureka moments
  • 6. Meta-cognitive reflection
  • 7. Sensory impact

Robert Rosenthal

1 the use of geographical terminology 2 application of real examples use of names facts figures
1. ‘The use of geographical terminology’2. ‘Application of real examples/use of names/facts/figures’

Highest frequencies.

From the Edexcel exam specification ; clearest identifiers of geographical understanding?

OR a previously developed lexicon that the students had brought with them on the trip rather than reflecting development during the trip?

Robert Rosenthal

7 sensory 5 eureka moments 3 appreciation of other values
7. ‘Sensory’5. ‘Eureka moments’3. ‘Appreciation of other values’
  • Not in specification.
  • Do these reflections of experiential and eye opening moments, reveal more about the direct impact of the fieldtrip experience?

Robert Rosenthal

7 sensory impact
7. ‘Sensory impact’
  • 1. An aspect of the environment ( references to sights, smells, food, cold)
  • 2. A sense of psychic or emotional discomfort ( a sense of chaos, fear, guilt, feeling lost)
  • 3. Positive or euphoric sensations (excitement, heaven, serenity, fun)
  • Sensory indicators much more evident in journal than video.

Robert Rosenthal

5 eureka moments phenomena
5. ‘Eureka moments’: phenomena
  • An appreciation of the common humanity and appreciation of the hard work of people in ledcs in the struggle against adversity

(‘People want to get on with you’, ‘Young people working with hammers’, ‘Manual labour for women’, ‘15 people to a house’)

  • A realisation of the ingenuity of people and their technology in Morocco

(‘Sophistication of irrigation system’, ‘People work around environmental barriers’, ‘Value placed on water’, ‘Terraces’ ,’How they came out with words like Eastenders’

  • Awe and wonder of the environment

(‘Sights of the market’, ‘Covered in snow’, ‘Sun tan lotion while having snowball fight’, ‘Scenery’,’ Amazing views of snow capped mountains while riding a mule’)

  • An appreciation of value in the way other people may do things differently

(‘Behaviour of men’, ‘entertainment of the mulateers’,’ playing drums and singing’).

  • An appreciation of what they take for granted in the UK

(‘The opportunities we have in medcs’, ‘My freedom’, ‘Life in ledcs... and UK’)

Robert Rosenthal

5 eureka moments affective impact
5. ‘Eureka moments’: affective impact
  • Beyond belief

(‘Unbelievable’, ‘Completely different’, ‘So different’, ‘Completely different to anything I've experienced’)

  • Awe

(‘No words can do it justice’, ‘Amazing’, ‘Fascinating’, ‘I’m completely in awe’, ‘A magic moment’, ‘What sticks out in my mind’)

  • Inspiration
  • Increased reflection

(‘Makes you think’, ‘Proved me wrong’, ‘Challenges the way I perceive’, ‘I didn’t realise how’, ‘I could really see’, ‘Made me realise’, ‘I’ve seen for myself’, ‘My change in perception’, ‘What we’ve learnt in college isn’t always right’, ‘Taught me to be more appreciative’, ‘To think people live’, ‘Made me feel quite privileged’, ‘Made me realise how difficult’, ‘Appreciate the life we have’, ‘Before I came I thought’)

  • Personal achievement or enjoyment

(‘Great sense of achievement’, ‘I did enjoy’, ‘I was very glad’,’ It was touching’,

  • ‘The experience has allowed me’, ‘Very humbling’, ‘I discovered’, ‘Decide for myself’, ‘Extremely impressionable’, ‘A real adventure’, ‘The highlight of the holiday’)

Robert Rosenthal

3 appreciation of a range of values or perspectives
3. ‘Appreciation of a range of values or perspectives’
  • ‘behaviour in relation to economic necessity’(37 occurrences),
  • ‘domestic culture & entertainment’(33), ‘different gender roles’(7)
  • ‘state regulation’ (3).

Robert Rosenthal

4 analysis leading to a conclusion
4. ‘Analysis leading to a conclusion’
  • The ‘logic of traditional culture and economy’ (22),
  • ‘Economic development’(16),
  • ‘Economic necessity’ (9),
  • ‘State regulation’ (7),
  • ‘The role of tourism’ (7),
  • ‘Social structure & gender ‘(7),
  • ‘The physical environment’ (6),
  • ‘People –environment relationships’ (2).
  • ‘Hazards’ (1).

Robert Rosenthal

combined themes emerging from 3 appreciation of values and 4 analysis leading to a conclusion
Combined themes emerging from ‘3. Appreciation of Values’ and 4. ‘Analysis Leading to a Conclusion’

Robert Rosenthal

6 meta cognitive qualifying phrases
6. ‘Meta-cognitive qualifying phrases’ more of an experience...(5)

bring the case study to life....will never be forgotten...

Infinitely more interesting than sitting in a class room...

...has taught me more than a curriculum based fieldtrip would...Allowed me to put my own questions...(2)

This trip was so much me to think for myself...

Walking through and learning...inspiring (3)

because it is more interesting place an differs so much from our norm.

...become apparent...raised conflicts within myself...

What has been learnt will undoubtedly change their perceptions...(3)

Made me think differently about how I see....

After coming here i now realise....

...many seemed to appreciate the differences...(4)

I gained a true appreciation...

It really helped me appreciate...

My geographical understanding has changed for the better...brought the case study to life

The biggest thing i’ve got out of this trip....

Robert Rosenthal

6 meta cognitive analysis of topic focus words
6. ‘Meta-cognitive analysis of topic focus words’
  • EXPERIENTIAL (9)( Experiencing Morocco, Orangey pink Marrakesh, New culture, Enveloped in such a different way of life, Differences between Western and Islamic culture, Moving from Marakesh to Imlil, the transition, Report to the ‘mayor’, Lifetime skills and experiences)
  • DEVELOPMENT GAP (6)(LEDC compared to UK, Gap between LEDC and MEDC, Perceptions of LEDCs, Life in LEDCs, LEDCs, poor countries and people who live in them)
  • REFLECTION ON HOME (3) (Appreciating what we have in UK, Our necessities, their luxuries)
  • PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT (4)(Rivers, rural and mountain environments, Harshness of mountain environment, Links between hazards & rivers, Morocco)
  • HUMAN GEOGRAPHY (3)(The geography of the area
  • Geography has many levels, Influence & pressure of tourism)

Robert Rosenthal

student comparisons with as trip
Student comparisons with AS trip

 “More of a journey of experiences”

 “I also discovered a lot more about humanityhere, and the human ability to survive.”

 “Being enveloped in such a different way of life has taught me more

 Allowed me to find my own questions”

 “Think about it in my own terms”,

 “Differs so much from our norm”

 “More an experience and requires less class work because it is so spectacular.”

 “The trip has widened rather than changed my geographical understanding”

 “It hasn’t felt like a fieldtrip because of the lack of written work, but I feel like I have learnt more”

Robert Rosenthal

student comparison with as trip
Student comparison with AS trip

 “Here we are allowed to take the experience in,”

 “Learnt far more than last time. Wider range of skills used on this trip”

  •  “Helped me to remember especially because the trip was enjoyable”
  •  “The style of teaching was a lot better , because even though writing our diaries felt like a chore, it cemented the knowledge I had learnt during the day.”

 “We have more time to see and think about the geography of the areas of the things we are learning”

 ‘We used a wider range of skills on this trip’

 ‘More mature & more adult!’

 It was better for us to absorb the culture and have a better understanding of what an LEDC is like

Robert Rosenthal

analysis of essays per student before and after trip
Analysis of Essays per student before and after trip

Use of Terminology increased between 16% and 566%.

Application of names/examples increased between 33% and 2,100% .

Analysis leading to a conclusion increased up to 600%.

Robert Rosenthal

analysis of a level module results
Analysis of A level module results
  • Mean UM:396
  • Median UM: 322
  • Mark range: 255
  • Average Module re-sit enhancement: 15.5UM
  • % change for 4 module resits:33%, 12%, 30% and 60% for four modules.
  • (High mean and median in spite of wider ability spread. Mean g score only 0.4 above non trippers)
  • a value added analysis by ALPS shows that their group final grades achieved a 10% increase vs previous cohort
  • Mean UM: 377
  • Median UM: 309
  • Mark range: 200
  • Average Module re-sit enhancement: 12.7 UM
  • % change for 4 module
  • resits. 5-6%

Robert Rosenthal



Robert Rosenthal

  • Students say: taught them more than highly structured traditional positivist fieldwork. Enjoyment. Adventure. Sense of achievement. Empathy.
  • Exam results and essay analysis show significant improvements vs non-trippers and on previous cohort.
  • Enhancements result from affective and experiential (sensory and eureka) rather than didactic or structured learning.

Robert Rosenthal

  • Did the affective impact:

1. enhance student motivation and therefore their effort to revise?

2. More deeply embed contextually linked cognitive learning than a more ‘filtered’ and focused approach might have done?

Is it possible to isolate the variable of affective fieldwork from all other life experiences of students?

Robert Rosenthal


Job D. (1999) ‘New Directions in Geography Fieldwork’ (CUP)

  • Trudghill S. (2003) ‘Contemporary Meanings in Physical Geography’ (Arnold)

Robert Rosenthal