Scaffolding field-based research
I was just clearing up my office at the end of semester when I realise I had to deal with a thick pile of field reports. These were submitted by the students who went to the Hanoi fieldtrip with me in December 2009 and I must say I am very pleased with the academic quality of the reports. Perhaps I am blessed with a good cohort of students but I believe it has to do with the way I designed the course AAG401. Although a 1-hour per week slot has always been allocated for the course before the students go for the fieldtrip, I have made these 1 hour slots even more tructured then before. I have set milestones for them to complete namely:
- Conduct a prelimiary literature review
- Formulating the research question
- Concept mapping the ideas around the research topic.
- Write a litearture review on methodology
- Write a proposed methodology chapter
- Design a field guide book
At each stage, 3 steps were taken: Peer reivew of the milestone product by one classmate, review of the product by me and then a revision which was then uploaded onto the CMS - BlackBoard.
I think this forces the student to pace their fieldwork and research and allows them to spend more time on data analysis and then writing after the fieldtrip itself.
While I am generally staisfied with this approach I think a few improvements can be made in future runs:
- Include a similar process for the post-fieldwork sessions, especially on data analysis.
- Have an oral presentation before the submission of the final product to allow for reflection
I have gathered some reflections from the students but I shall not post them here. Most of them have indicated that being in the field itself allows them to see the geographical phenomena they are studying from a very differen perspective. They have also learnt that a lot of field investigation depends on the site and even with the most comprehensive planning, some degree of improvisiation is required. At some point, I will collect these reflections and share them in an article. For the moment, I should write these thoughts down before they get eroded by time.