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In fieldwork, students are generally required to spend time in the real world, i.e. in an urban or rural landscape, or an ancient city. Students may be asked to make observations, to compare real examples with models, and develop the techniques required to carry out research within their discipline. Assessment may be in the form of an analysis of the data observed, a diary containing reflections on their research, or a suggested solution to a real-world problem.   

Typically used to…. 

  • assess students’ ability to observe and record the relevant elements of the field and to analyse the relationships between these elements 
  • evaluate students’ mastery of discipline specific techniques required within their field 
  • assess students’ ability to conduct field research 
  • assess students’ capacity to work independently and professionally within the field 


Consider the fieldwork assessment in the context of the module or programme.

Fieldwork may be an entire module, such as a residential field course, and therefore be used to assess the complete set of learning outcomes for the module.

Fieldwork may also be an integral part of a module and be used to:

  • facilitate opportunities to gather data to integrate into assessments, and therefore contribute to assessment of one or more learning outcomes
  • enable students carry out field work, such as field surveys, as one of the modules’ learning outcomes

Ask the question as to how assessment of the students’ learning during fieldwork be used to demonstrate that they have achieved the relevant learning outcome.


Fieldwork has a range of benefits for students, such as promoting employability in the professional field, fostering transferable skills through peer collaboration, and connecting concepts learnt in a classroom to a real-life context (13). Additionally, experiential learning is recognised as a means of improving students’ knowledge retention (23), therefore impacting on their ability to achieve intended learning outcomes. 

Specifically, it facilitates students to: 

  • develop field research techniques and skills such as observation, analysis, problem solving and report writing 
  • engage in experiential learning within the real world, often within environments they may not have previously experienced  
  • Allows concentrated study of a topic that normal teaching timetables may not allow 
  • compare real examples with model or idealized examples in textbooks; 
  • encourages students to take responsibility for their own learning; 
  • develops personal skills, such as teamwork, leadership and responsibility. 
  • Develop relationships with peers and staff through relaxed social contact  

(Adapted from UCL - 

  1. Kim, M. (2020). Developing pre-service teachers’ fieldwork pedagogical and content knowledge through designing enquiry-based fieldwork. Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 1-19. doi:10.1080/03098265.2020.1849065 
  2. Freeman, S., Eddy, S., McDonough, M., Smith, M., Okoroafor, N., Jordt, H., & Wenderoth, M. (2014). Active Learning Increases Student Performance in Science, Engineering, and Mathematics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 111. doi:10.1073/pnas.1319030111 

Ask the question as to how assessment of the students’ learning during fieldwork can be used to demonstrate that they have achieved the relevant learning outcome.

Formative or Summative

  • Are you intending to use the fieldwork for formative or summative assessment purposes, or both? 
  • Consider at what stage(s) formative assessment will be most valuable to the students and how students should be able to act on the feedback prior to final assessment 
    • One suggestion is to use peer assessment while completing field trip tasks, with a view to student discussion on appropriate ways to conduct the task. 
  • If using Summative assessment consider giving the students a choice of submission options to demonstrate that they have achieved the learning outcomes. 


Carefully consider how you will grade the fieldwork.

  • What criteria will you use to assess students’ engagement with fieldwork? 
    • Have you provided students with a rubric?  
    • Does the rubric align with the relevant learning outcomes? 
  • How will you ensure students are aware of how to successfully complete a given task
    • And can accurately evaluate success or failure on a given task? 
  • What criteria will you use to grade the summative assessment component?
  • Do your teaching strategies align with this assessment? 

Going Digital

It can be difficult to replicate fieldwork in an online environment. Hands-on, experiential learning is essential in many disciplines to gain professional experience skills and to be prepared to join the workforce (22). However consider the opportunities that digital technologies may offer for you and your students, that will enhance the field trips they embark on. 

  • Are there digital tools available, such as maps, that can be sued by students to familiarise themselves with the physical space prior to the fieldwork? How might engagement with such materials be assessed in a way that demonstrates achievement of learning outcomes? 
  • Could the use of secondary data sources or systematic literature reviews be used to assess students’ ability to conduct relevant field research? 
  • Are there virtual worlds available through which students can begin the development of the necessary field techniques and skills? 
  • Are there online communities in the field where students can develop professional relationships and build towards professional skills assessment? 
  • Consider asking students to use one of the available apps that are relevant to their field, I.e. species identifiers, and compare the efficacy of the traditional method of identifying species to that of the app.
    • Should students work in a peer collaborative place, such as a discussion fora, to discuss issues concerning their field research? 
  • How can you take advantage of digital tools to enhance feedback? 
    • For example, would the use of audio feedback, through Blackboard, enable students understand and act on the feedback? 

(1) Galoyan, T., Talafian, H., & Hammrich, P. (2019). Designing Experiential Learning Environments in STEM. Progress in education, 59, 167-186. 

Student Support

Students need a clear picture of what is required of them before they can complete the fieldwork successfully.

  • Have you provided students with clear guidelines on the format and requirements of the assessments related to the fieldtrip?
    • For example, do they have a clear understanding of purpose of the research they will conduct?
  • How can you use your teaching strategies to support students understanding of what constitutes a good fieldtrip diary or report?
    • For example, do you cover writing and reporting skills in your classes?


Make sure your students are aware of the submission procedure and any deadlines.

  • How will students submit assessments related to the fieldwork?
    • For example, will you require students to submit through the VLE Assignments tool or via email? (See suggestions for relevant tools and technologies below.)
    • Will you allow multiple submission attempts or one attempt only?


Before you embark on the assessment consider what challenges you may have and how to overcome them.

  • One of the key challenges in the assessment of fieldwork is in relation to the diversity of artefacts allowed for submission.  
    • Grading criteria need to be carefully designed to ensure equity in assessment. 
  • English may be the required language of the essay, how will you support students whose first language is not English?
  • What consideration have you given to students with disabilities?  
    • For example, many students with LENS reports have chosen to use video rather than written submissions
    • Follow the UDL principles (see resource on main page).

Case studies  - Using digital technologies for fieldwork

Digital Technology in Field Trips

Dr Fraser Mitchell - Botany Department - Plants and the Irish Environment. Autumn field trip module.

Digital Assessment in Geography Field Trips

Prof Iris Moeller, Dr Mark Hennessey, Prof Anne Davies & Dr Cian O Callaghan - Online guided independent field activities and assessment


Trinity-supported tools: 

Examples of fieldwork

Digital education in the Disciplines: A snapshot of digital teaching, learning & assessment practices in Science, Technology, Education and Mathematics (STEM) 


Due to travel restrictions globally, the majority of fieldwork trips for STEM students were cancelled in 2020. Educators turned to digital tools to provide students with an immersive learning environment while maintaining the same learning outcomes. Students in an undergraduate Life Sciences programme at Imperial College London would typically conduct in-person fieldwork related to their studies, which were subsequently cancelled in response to the COVID19 pandemic. As an alternative, the Department offered a ‘Virtual Field Course’ which included group activities, fieldwork, lectures, and data focused projects to conduct over the summer break in 2020. One of the first projects, the ‘Dawn Chorus’, involved students across the globe recording birdsong in their local area using their smartphones, noting certain variables (e.g., time of day, weather conditions, etc) (1). 

Using the collected data, species diversity was compared across a range of international habitats. In addition to this, the University facilitated a range of virtual fieldtrips for STEM students. For example, 3rd year Geology students who were unable to take a trip to Sardinia were provided a ‘virtual Sardinia,’ developed by their course leaders (2). This was developed using the game engine Unity and allowed students to inspect 3D models of real rocks in a virtual space. The virtual fieldtrip followed the structure of an in-person fieldtrip, consisting of taught fieldwork at the start of the day and self-conducted fieldwork in the evening, allowing students based in Asia to participate despite the physical distance. The virtual space was supplemented with Google Maps photographs, an AI demonstrator, and a virtual microscope to examine the rocks in detail.  

Educators turned to popular, familiar, digital technology to produce virtual spaces for students to learn from. Zoology students based in the School of Biology at the University of Edinburgh would usually travel to FSC Millport on the island of Great Cumbrae, sampling flora and fauna (2). In response to COVID-19 barriers, educators created a virtual island using the popular video game Minecraft to replicate the real-life 5-day fieldtrip. Educators wanted to allow students to be creative and work independently. Educators used Open Street map data for Puerto Rico, modifying it to create four separate beaches with distinct animal species in each zone. The island included an ‘Eco Lab’ for students to perform experiments on food choice with virtual animals. Educators recognised the importance of creating engaging content in fully realising the benefits of gamification in education, by including ‘decorative elements, secrets, train networks, and a host of custom achievements’ (3). While these additional elements were not necessary to completing the learning outcomes, it added depth to the virtual world experience. A handbook was circulated to students and in-game signs and screen prompts provided the scaffolding for learning for students. The virtual fieldwork can be an individual or group-based exercise, with plans to develop a server for students to collaborate synchronously in future programmes. 

  1. MacKay, M. (2020, 23 April 2020). Imperial geoscientists complete UK's first MSc virtual field trip. Imperial College News. Retrieved from 
  2. Wilkes, H. (29 May 2020). Sampling Sardinia on screen. Retrieved from

Digital education in the Disciplines: A snapshot of digital teaching, learning & assessment practices in Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences 

Experiential/Practise-based Learning  

Often, students who are conducting fieldwork face challenges as a result of not being physically present on university campuses. Anthropology educators at the University of Copenhagen utilised Absalon, a learning management system, for students conducting fieldwork to allow them to stay in contact with their peers and educators (1). The aim of this activity was to provide students with academic structure in order to prepare them for their studies once they returned to campus. After meeting each other in a face-to-face meeting, students embarked on their respective fieldwork. This was followed by participating in five online assignments throughout the semester from their respective physical locations. Students were divided into groups to allow them to network and share their individual projects online with their peers. Groups contained two online discussion forums – one for peer assessment and the second for academic social discussions. Due to the success of the programme, it became mandatory for students to take part in the online environment.

  1. Jensen, C. J., Stenbæk, L., & Bundgaard, H. (2016). Partner-created digital learning space. Journal of Learning and Media (LOM), 9(16). doi:  

A student perspective on fieldwork

Coming soon


For more information on fieldwork as a pedagogy visit the web pages on Signature Pedagogies

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