Unstructured rest key to student learning at field school

March 13, 2020
Alison "AJ" Jolley

Fieldwork is renowned for its long hours and grueling pace, but working without breaks leads to exhaustion and errors. Science Teaching and Learning Fellow Alison “AJ” Jolley is investigating how students rest during field courses, and how it impacts learning.

Jolley has fond memories of her time at the Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences’ Oliver Field School from her undergraduate in geology. “It made me feel really connected to the science and to geology,” she explains about the experience that gave her the confidence to pursue a career in geoscience education. “I really liked it so much, I just want to make it a better kind of camp!”

She dug into how students connect with the places they do fieldwork for her doctoral research at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand under the supervision of UBC alum Ben Kennedy before returning to Vancouver to keep digging into how students’ emotional experiences, attitudes, and values impact the way they learn.

Field courses are often jammed full of learning opportunities, explains Jolley, but downtime is a hazier concept. Her current research collaboration with Alex Watson at the University of Canterbury started when field instructors grew concerned that travel days between field sites were becoming synonymous with rest. So Jolley headed to the field to observe students in camp.

“We thought that students would be tired before the rest day and energized afterwards, and it would be pretty straightforward,” she explains. “But there's a whole bunch of nuances to the way people feel about it.”

Some students took their day off to energetically socialize, investing their waking hours in getting to know other people in the camp. Others took that time off to retreat away from everyone, investing their rest period in recuperation or in connecting with their distant support network at home. But both groups returned refreshed and convinced that their efforts had paid off.

Jolley captures this split path to the same outcome as students sharing a common goal of wanting to contribute to their group and to intensively learn science, but that their way of getting there is unique. “This really speaks to us needing to give students time where they have choice to figure out what they want to do instead of prescribing activities,” explains Jolley.

It's these unexpected moments that Jolley treasures most about researching how students learn geoscience. “There's so much richness and depth to what people do and say and feel that it keeps you guessing all the time,” she says.

Image credit: Mika McKinnon
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