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Geography students on a field trip to the Western Ghats ;

The present and future of field trips

Geography at 100
Kevin Lougheed

Lecturer in Geography and Field Trip Lead

27 October 2022

The Royal Geographical Society describes fieldwork as the ‘jewel in the crown of geography’ ��� a sentiment I can only agree with having designed and delivered field trips since my first day as a geography lecturer. They are not only one of the best forms of experiential learning but are key to student experience within their degree.

It is where students make friends for life, indeed my closest friends are still those who I met on my own undergraduate field trip all those years ago. For staff too they can be one of the most engaging and fun experiences in our teaching calendar, although also quite exhausting!

Field trips today

When I started at King’s Department of Geography in 2016, the field trips look somewhat similar to what they are today. We had a first year field trip which took over 100 students to the south of Spain. There were several field trips for second year students, each to match up with a different pathway of the degree. I’ve had the pleasure to go on several of these, from Hong Kong to Kerala in India, and most recently in Lisbon.

As a geographer, getting to travel to these exciting locations to ply our teaching trade with engaged students is one of the highlights of the job. In 2018 I became one of the field trip leads of the department – another eye opening experience to learn just how much work and detail goes into the delivery of a successful field trip. I can only thank colleagues from the Professional Services in the Department for their dedicated work and patience in supporting field trips in the department.

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How COVID-19 impacted field trips

COVID-19 was a challenging period for all of us, and field trips were no exception. The department had a choice to make – to switch to virtual trips, postpone the trips or to cancel them completely.

With the department putting field trips at the centre of the students’ learning experience, we made the decision to rearrange the trips - a mammoth undertaking which we are still dealing with this year as we try to deliver on the backlog.

They also had to remain in the UK. Whilst students initially had to get over the disappointment of not being able to travel abroad, it has given students the opportunity to experience their own back yard through a different lens.  

Geography fieldtrip 2021 York Moors

We took first year students to York. Human Geography students experienced how York has packaged itself as a city, including how it selects and emphasises stories of the occult and folklore to attract tourists. Physical Geographers got to experience the diverse landscape of Yorkshire, exploring water quality, carbon storage, rewilding of beavers and exploring the geomorphology of the North Yorkshire Moors. We ended the trip with a project day in the beautiful coastal town of Whitby.

Second year trips went to places like Liverpool to explore urban geography, Cornwall exploring cultural geography, as well as Malham Tarn and Cornwall again for physical geography.

While it feels like the last two years of my life has been travelling around the UK designing trips, it has been enjoyable to have students get a greater understanding of the geography within their own country.

Geography fieldtrip 2021 Beaver Reintroduction

Key issues shaping field trips

Field trips do not happen in isolation. They reflect wider global issues and they need respond to the interests and desires of our students. Student interests in important movements, from extinction rebellion and climate change to Black Lives Matter and inclusivity, result in constant important changes and reflections on field trips.

As a result, we’ve started to rewrite the department’s field trip policy – and there are a few important topics we want to embed into our future field trips.

Sustainability

As students become more engaged with sustainability, we’ve been faced with an interesting dilemma. Whilst we’d like to provide the learning experience of visiting far flung parts of the globe, sustainability and environmental impact are a core issue in our discipline.

A recent study we conducted with students demonstrates this dilemma. 84% of the students surveyed would consider going on a low carbon field trip, but 81% said they’d like the department to organise long-haul trips with large associated carbon budgets.

With sustainability as a core focus for our department, we’ve started to conduct carbon audits on each of our field trips. We found that our field trip to Spain cost 76.03 tonnes of CO2, whist the York trip cost 4.32 total tonnes of CO2.

We’re not only looking at how and where we travel to, but also how we conduct field trips - what companies and partners we engage with and the topics we focus on during field trips. We’ll continue to actively focus on improving our best practices for field trips and sustainability in the years to come.

Geography Morocco field trip 2012

Inclusivity

At their core, successful field trips are those that cultivate a student’s sense of belonging, and any barriers to this impacts the effectiveness of their experience.

As a field trip lead, this has been a central concern when developing trips. When it comes to field trips, there’s the potential for situations to cause anxiety for students or lead to them feeling excluded – from the experience of travelling, to being in challenging physical environments and being away from their support networks. We’ve since been reflecting on how we can ensure all students have the best experience they can when on field trips.

We’ve focused our efforts on ensuring locations are inclusionary – not only in terms of rights of entry, but also to reflect wider issues of inclusion from disability and mental health, race, sexuality and gender to name a few. This led to the development of an Equality Impact Assessment to coincide with sustainability audits and risk assessments to be conducted for any potential field trip.

Again, location is not the only factor in considering inclusivity. We have to take into consideration activities and experiences to make sure we are fostering a feeling of belonging for students.

Student feedback from our most recent field trip gave us an average score of 9 out of 10 for making people feel included, but we know there’s always more work to do in this area, especially as we transition back to international trips.

Virtual trips

Like every industry in the last few years, conversations about the use of technology in enhancing working environments have made their way into our discussions about field trips - we’ve discussed enhanced use of 360 tours, virtual field trips and the potential use of virtual reality.

Whilst virtual field trips offer many opportunities, it needs to be balanced with the importance of learning through experience, which includes experiencing other places that are core to the geography degree.

I think it’s unlikely that virtual experiences will completely replace our in-person trips and the tangible experience of collecting data in the field. However, virtual experiences could enhance field trips, giving students a chance to get used to the environment they will experience and test out their skills ahead of the trip.

Geography field trip Spain 2018

The future of field trips

With the relaxation of COVID-19 regulations, we’re looking to the future of field trips – from 2023, we’ll be able to reintroduce international trips.

We will still keep our first year trip in the UK, heading back to York for the next few years, due to the positive experience we’ve had in recent years and for sustainability reasons.

So going forward, a student starting their geography degree at King’s will have a first-year trip to York, and the option of several international locations for their second year. Lisbon, Tenerife, Barcelona and Berlin are just a few places that are potentially on the cards for the second year trip.

Locations for field trips are chosen by the Department to reflect certain elements at the core of the discipline. The team also thinks about the core academic teaching and skills they want students to take away from the trips, what different academic and life opportunities they expose students to and what different experiences staff would like to explore.

Here's hoping for another 100 years of engaged and exciting field trips!

In this story

Kevin Lougheed

Kevin Lougheed

Senior Lecturer in Human Geography Education

Geography at 100

To celebrate its 100th anniversary, the Department of Geography will host a set of events and activities throughout 2022.

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