How does it feel? The affective domain and undergraduate student perception of fieldwork set in a broad pedagogical perspective

  • Tiernan Henry National University of Ireland, Ireland
  • John Murray National University of Ireland, Ireland
Keywords: affective domain, fieldwork, geoscience, geology, pedagogy, situated learning


Fieldwork in the earth sciences is much valued by students, teachers and prospective employers alike, yet it has been reduced as a component of many undergraduate programmes in recent times. This study presents the results of an investigation of the undergraduate student perception of fieldwork, specifically in the context of the affective domain, and considers the effectiveness of field-based training as a pedagogical tool. Fieldwork provides the learner with a deep and immersive learning environment, where they are required to apply knowledge and theory acquired in class to the natural world, and to then analyse its validity. Strong spatial and temporal reasoning skills are routinely employed, and construction of maps is central to the learning experience, as it requires students to carefully observe their surroundings and make informed and reasoned decisions as to what is important and truly necessary to document. As part of this study students from a single higher education institution in Ireland were provided with anonymous questionnaires and polled for their opinions prior to and following a phase of residential fieldwork. The results clearly show an appreciation of not just the cognitive benefits, but also the transferable, technical and social skills developed and improved through their varied first-hand real world fieldwork experiences. These findings are much in keeping with those of previous studies. Overall, the student study group demonstrated enhanced affective domain responses to residential fieldwork: a recurring theme in the responses was recognition of the importance and value of sound observation and scientific rigor. These skills could subsequently be applied to many other areas of student learning, thus helping them to consolidate and integrate their knowledge base. The capacity of field training to transform the way students think was very evident – they became knowledge generators rather than just knowledge recipients.

Received: 21 March 2018
Accepted: 08 May 2018
Published online: 31 May 2018


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Author Biographies

Tiernan Henry, National University of Ireland, Ireland

Lecturer in hydrogeology at the National University of Ireland Galway (appointed in 2003). He completed his BA at Trinity College Dublin, was awarded an MSc from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and completed his PhD at NUI Galway. He has more than 25 years of industry and academic experience in hydrogeology. He has a postgraduate diploma in academic practice and is now completing an MA focused on geoscience education. His research interests include better understanding the distribution of metals in groundwater, exploring the importance of structure in relation to groundwater flow, and characterizing the complex relationships between water and rocks in coastal karst zones. He is affiliated with: Earth and Ocean Sciences, School of Natural Sciences, NUI Galway; Irish Centre for Research in Applied Geoscience (iCRAG). Mail:

John Murray, National University of Ireland, Ireland

Lecturer in palaeontology at the National University of Ireland Galway. He has wide-ranging research interests in all aspects of palaeontology, palaeoclimatology and geology. He holds a BA and PhD from Trinity College Dublin and taught there for two years before taking up his present lecturing position in NUI Galway in 2003. John teaches to all years at undergraduate level, mainly in areas dealing with palaeontology, biological evolution and the history of the Earth. John is equally at home teaching to students in a large lecture hall, small classroom, laboratory or even outdoors (in the field) at a rock outcrop (preferably somewhere scenic!) He has completed postgraduate training in teaching and learning in higher education and has received two NUI Galway teaching awards. He is affiliated with: Earth and Ocean Sciences, School of Natural Sciences, NUI Galway; Irish Centre for Research in Applied Geoscience (iCRAG). Mail:


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How to Cite
Henry, Tiernan, and John Murray. 2018. “How Does It Feel? The Affective Domain and Undergraduate Student Perception of Fieldwork Set in a Broad Pedagogical Perspective”. Tuning Journal for Higher Education 5 (2), 45-74.