Creative approaches to practicals and fieldwork in online/hybrid spaces

Image of man overlooking city of Edinburgh with image of person working at a laptop superimposed on the sky
Image Credit: Remix by Joe Arton. Originals, Jonathan Francisca Unsplash and Duncan Kidd Unsplash.

Welcome to November’s Issue: Creative Approaches to Practicals and Fieldwork in Online/Hybrid spaces.

As colleagues worked hard over the summer to envisage how they were going to teach their courses this autumn, there was one question I was asked by many people: how are we going to teach practicals and fieldwork? Typically, practicals involve in-person laboratory work or are taught in a computer lab with teachers, tutors and demonstrators offering timely hands-on support and asking key questions to enable learning. Fieldwork often involves UK or overseas travel and communal living, cooking, and socialising – all elements that contribute to making fieldwork teaching such a powerful and effective way of building community.

It is easy to see why in the current context, planning for teaching practicals and fieldwork seemed to be particularly challenging. And yet, perhaps the thorniness of the problem was all that was needed to stimulate some amazing creativity from colleagues. This month’s Teaching Matters blogs are focused on creative approaches to practicals and fieldwork in online/hybrid spaces and showcase some of the ways colleagues have redesigned practicals and fieldwork to be engaging, innovative and to offer a high quality learning experience.

In one blog this month from Elise Darmon and Heather McQueen, we read about the challenges and experiences of redesigning molecular genetics practicals. The authors offer a wonderfully rich description of what they planned, what worked, what didn’t and what they are learning from their experiences. Another blog made me want to sign up to be a student again – Dan Swanton’s beautiful geography fieldwork webpages guiding small groups of students to walk routes through Edinburgh and think deeply about how they relate to their surroundings in the city. I confess that 30 years ago I very nearly studied geography, before going off to have an alternative career, but I don’t think it is my innate interest in geography that makes these resources appealing, it is the thought that has gone into making them so appealing and engaging.

Alongside the great examples of how we are rethinking our teaching approaches in the blogs this month, I was also reminded of a previous blog people might like to re-engage with. Back in July Robbie Nicol wrote about the ‘value of place-based education through local landscapes’ and this feels very relevant to our thinking about the ways we can engage in outdoor spaces in the current context. See also the recent University information, guidelines and risk assessment template for outdoor educational activities. I hope you enjoy this month’s contributions from around the University.

Previous posts that you might find interesting:


Catherine Bovill

Dr Catherine Bovill is Senior Lecturer in Student Engagement at the Institute for Academic Development, University of Edinburgh and Visiting Fellow at the University of Winchester. She is a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, Fellow of the Staff and Educational Development Association and an Editorial Board member for Teaching in Higher Education. At Edinburgh she leads the IAD programme and course design team and the Learning and Teaching Conference team as well as supporting a range of strategic projects focused on student engagement. She regularly publishes and presents her work on partnership and co-creating curriculum internationally. In 2019-2020 she was a Fulbright Scholar based in the USA.

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