Independent field-based projects in behavioural ecology for ‘deep learning’

Geoff MacFarlane, Kevin Markwell


A project is currently being conducted which aims to assess student’s learning experiences of an independent field-based activity in a third year course offering in Ecology at the University of Newcastle. Students as part of the course are required to carry out independent fieldwork on an animal species of their choice documenting the subject’s behavioural repertoire and subsequently creating and testing hypotheses about the behaviours observed. The activity has been designed based on Ramsden’s (1992) principles of a student-centred approach to learning which aims to create a learning context which fosters a ‘deep-approach’ to learning. A deep approach is characterised by an intention to understand, focussing on the concepts applicable to solving problems (hypothesis testing), relating previous knowledge to new knowledge and has an internal or intrinsic motivational emphasis. Deep approaches empower students to take an active and independent role in their own learning experiences. Preliminary results of student feedback via a questionnaire and a series of open ended written responses will be assessed examining the success of the activity in terms engendering independence and internal motivation, encouraging problem solving skills and thus fostering a deep approach to student learning.

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