Fields of dreams

October 27, 2000

Virtual field trips may be a long way from being fully virtual but they still have an important role to play in preparing students ("It's an IT field day, but students lose", THES , October 13).

Fieldwork is where academic knowledge and theory can be tested against reality. But the expense of it means we need to make the most efficient use of the time spent. Virtual fieldwork can help.

Lawrie Phipp's article poses two questions. First, whether the money might be better spent in finding ways to get differently abled students into the field? This decision is a value judgement for university budget holders. This is a separate issue. Good VFT goes way beyond enabling disadvantaged students.

The second question is why not get rid of fieldwork for all students and replace it with VFT? The answer is expense. Most students contribute to, or pay for, their fieldwork. Not only would a virtual replacement be inferior, but also be more expensive as the university would bear the full cost.

At the University of Plymouth, demand is strongest for geography field trips that are the most expensive. A university department that removed real fieldwork from its syllabus would find that students would vote with their feet. Now that would be expensive.

John Stainfield
Teaching fellow in geography
University of Plymouth

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