Field Labs and students with special needs

Initial Publication Date: July 25, 2007


Not all students are (initially) excited about field work and field labs. They may not have spent much time outdoors or may have had bad experiences. Making the field experience safe and comfortable may be a challenge. Because students' motivations intersect with their past experiences and personalities, resources directed at understanding the affective domain may be particularly helpful. The term "affective domain" comes from a resource commonly known as "Bloom's Taxonomy" which is discussed with reference to science education on the Cutting Edge Affective Domain website.

Physical Challenges

Writers on educating college students with mobility impairments, visual problems and other physical challenges recognize that field work and field instruction provide unusual challenges both for students and instructors. Generally, authors distinguish between "accommodations" (when individual students and their challenges are helped) and "universal design" (when the instructional experiences, as a whole, are designed to be accessible to everyone). An example of the latter, for instance, would be choosing field sites for everyone that are accessible with wheelchairs.

More detail and a field work case study can be found at field work resources and case study part of a larger collection of resources prepared by the University of Washington Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking & Technology program.

One common-sense tip from the DOIT site is to ask the disabled students how they might be included in the field work. Another basic principle in designing field labs (or in designing alternative labs for students with physical challenges) is to try to separate the educational objectives from the non-educational ones. For instance, if the educational objective is to teach students to describe a stratigraphic section, the visually-impaired student may be able to work with an model that can be described based on tactile properties.