Connecting beyond the academy: international fieldtrips in Geography

In collaboration with Associate Professor Michael Adams, this teaching and learning initiative responds to calls for universities and communities to share and co-create knowledge to contribute to the development of socially and environmentally conscious students. Undergraduate community engagement opportunities are widely regarded by academics and practitioners as representing one of the most transformational forms of learning for students. International fieldwork experiences, in particular, enable geography students to practically apply theoretical and conceptual ideas in confronting and complex learning contexts. As such, we model a curriculum that values intercultural collaboration and the inclusion of diverse perspectives by connecting students with the expertise and experiences of people beyond the academy.

Each year the School of Geography and Sustainable Communities offers a two-week international cultural immersion fieldtrip, where social science students engage with, and learn from, local community-based experts. Students have travelled to the Andaman Islands (India), New Zealand, Bali (Indonesia), the Western Ghats (India):

  • In 2017 and 2018, students focused on the interconnections between social and ecological change, culture and tourism working with local Balinese hosts to understand how individuals and community-based organisations are responding to social inequalities and environmental challenges.

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  • In 2019, 18 UoW students travelled to the Western Ghats, one of the world’s biodoversity hotspots. Students visited areas of natural and cultural importance, experienced a homestay visit and took part in activities including trekking, climbing, cooking, birdwatching, coracle rides, cultural programs and temple visits. In each of the locations, briefings were provided by facilitators from the Dakshin Foundation as well as local resource experts from partner NGOs and home stays. Students learnt from local experts about their lived experiences of being at the epicentre of many local and global forces that shape our world such including issues such as human / animal conflict and the implications that western conservation frameworks have on Indigenous peoples access to forest rights.

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Taking an experiential learning approach, fieldtrips embed embodied, collaborative styles of learning, and encourage students through creative assessments to develop intercultural competence and global awareness, communication skills, critical self-reflection and techniques for situated learning and functioning in a team.

Student and academic reflections from reflective journals, field notes and informal focus groups indicate that embodied learning in cross-cultural contexts, underpinned by listening, sharing and exchanging ideas, enable students to gain a greater awareness of issues of power, wealth, and ethnicity that operate within a complex set of economic, political, environmental and cultural dynamics shaping how we see, think and do. The pedagogical and transformative potential arises because students are challenged to think deeply about their own social positions and to recognise how intimately connected they are to the issues they encounter.