I was surprised to find “fieldwork” while scrolling through the list of terms in the MLA’s collection on digital pedagogy. As someone not very familiar with the humanities, I was curious to learn more about what humanities fieldwork entails, and how digital tools could be applied to something that is so deeply connected to the real-world, boots on the ground feeling that comes with getting out of the office and into the field. Coming from a wildlife conservation background, my idea of fieldwork involves remote places, unique habitats, and lots of looking for critters. Digital tools can facilitate the data collection and analysis process, but fieldwork is still primarily based in the non-digital world of paper datasheets and waterproof field notebooks.
In reading through the materials, I learned that humanities fieldwork, like wildlife fieldwork, often involves traveling to new places with unique significance, but it can also include traveling through time using archived materials, interviews, and other artifacts of history. Digital pedagogy in humanities fieldwork takes advantage of the wide array of digital tools available for storing and searching for materials, as well as compiling and sharing information. It can also use digital tools to bridge the gap between past and present, near and far, by creating an immersive experience accessible without any travel.
It seems like similar digital pedagogy approaches could be applied in wildlife conservation and other natural resource fields to encourage student reflection and interaction following field trips. For example, in lieu of asking students to turn in field notes after a class trip, we could ask them to write reflective blog entries or contribute to a class photo collection or social media thread, or pinboard and discuss what they found most interesting and intriguing. Another possible application could be a collaborative project to create an immersive, interactive web site about a place visited in class to share with the public and increase access to remote areas.
An example of digital pedagogy connected to fieldwork from my own educational experience comes from an undergraduate forest ecology class that I took several years ago. One of the key topics that we learned about in class was ecological succession, or the change in plant and animal communities over time. For one of my favorite assignments of the course, the professor provided a series of historical photos taken within about a 30 minute drive of campus, and asked us to revisit and photograph those same places and discuss how they had changed over time. Such a project would lend itself quite well to the creation of an informational article or web site to help share local history with a broader audience.