Inclusive curriculum design in Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences

27 case studies of responding to the needs of students with disabilities in the context of inclusive curriculum design are available from the Geography Discipline Network (GDN). Fieldwork is a core element of many Geography-related programmes in higher education, and it may constitute a barrier for those who are mobility-impaired in particular. Case study 23 provided by the GDN ‘Provision of virtual access to a self-directed field trail for mobility-impaired students’ is an interesting example of how a core curricular element of Geography may be adapted by a higher education teacher to facilitate engagement in fieldwork for those who are mobility-impaired. The aim of the module on Soil Conservation is to provide introductory experience to students in relation to professional soil conservation skills. The fieldwork site is reclaimed coal land in South Wales, which is a headwater moorland site. The self-directed fieldwork trip involves a full day’s walk across mountain moorland.

A virtual field trail (VFT) was constructed based on the field train manual, as part of the student project. The same route and questions were used in the VFT as the actual field trail, but additional theoretical notes were included in the VFT. The VFT facilitated access to and engagement with the field trail for those students whose mobility impairment would otherwise have constituted too much of a barrier. A VFT can also facilitate access to such a site for any other students who, for whatever reason, are unable to complete the field trail at the relevant time. The case study author(s) notes that the VFT was also made available to all students for both preparation for the field trail and for revision purposes. Questions are included in the VFT which (all) students can take multiple times and which enable students to assess their own learning and performance. Formal assessment is a class quiz, which involves questions that are not identical to those in the VFT system.

In evaluating the VFT, the case study author(s) point to the small student numbers when noting that they have not been able to assess the relative academic performance of those who attended the field trip in person and those who only used the VFT. In the end-of-year student evaluations, the field trip was mentioned in very positive terms, while the VFT was mentioned much less frequently. As a result, the author(s) suggests that the VFT might be more useful as a supplementary than a replacement activity. However, as the case study author(s) notes, the VFT was converted from the field trip very readily, and it clearly provides a means of enabling access to a field site and to the learning of field skills for those who, because of a mobility-impairment or another factor, would otherwise be unable to participate in the module. It would be worth exploring in more detail students’ experiences of and responses to the use of a VRT, both as a supplementary and replacement activity to consider if and how the VRT experience could be enhanced for all students, but particularly for those who need to employ it as a replacement activity.

Further information on and examples of inclusive curriculum design in Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences is available in the Higher Education Academy publication. See also the Geography Discipline Network’s (GDN) Inclusive Curriculum Project  and the GDN’s ‘Learning Support for Disabled Students Undertaking Fieldwork and Related Activities’.