Field courses provide excellent opportunities to engage students with their subject. Previous research has confirmed the considerable academic and pastoral benefits gained from taking students out of the classroom, especially in Biosciences and related disciplines. Here, we compare student attendance/attainment on a Level 5 Biosciences field course to South Africa to: (1) attainment on other Level 5 modules; (2) attainment at Level 6; (3) dissertation performance; and (4) grade trajectory between Level 5 and Level 6 for two successive cohorts. Students who attended the overseas field course tended to attain higher dissertation marks than non-attending peers and had a better grade trajectory, being more likely to improve their degree classification between Levels 5 and 6. We discuss possible (non-mutually-exclusive) reasons for this, including academic experience, undertaking challenging assessment at the end of Level 5 based on independent research (essentially a mini-dissertation), piquing students’ enthusiasm, or simply that field trips attract students motivated to improve academic performance. Given the limited specific consideration of running field courses in unfamiliar environments (e.g. overseas) in Higher Education, we also discuss the potential additional benefits afforded by geographical novelty, considering: (1) student experience and enjoyment; and (2) student perceptions of learning. We found that, with appropriate preparation, running field courses in unfamiliar locations can add to the general benefits of fieldwork for student learning. Our findings do not support previous work suggesting that students can be disadvantaged by novelty, concluding instead that the novelty of the environment, and the new experiences thereby afforded, were positive.

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Mike Barron

Mike is a marine biologist/scientist/conservationist and a PADI master scuba diver instructor. He has travelled the world diving and experiencing many ecosystems and their inhabitants. His main interests lie in the field of inter-specific animal behaviour and he has worked on shark deterrents using Killer whale stimuli.


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