Peer assessment of field books for improving observational skills and reflective reasoning

Principal Investigator (PI): Adam Switzer, Associate Professor, Asian School of Environment
Co-PI: Natasha Bhatia, Lecturer and Undergraduate Course Coordinator, Asian School of the Environment; Kevin Hartman, Research Scientist, Centre for Research and Development in Learning
Funding Agency: NTU EdEx
Central to Asian School of Environment’s (ASE) academic programme is a belief that good science requires grounded experiences observing real world environments and solving real world problems. To facilitate this grounding, ASE’s programme is built around a series of overseas fieldtrips that force students to hone their observational skills in the areas of geology, hydrology, and biology. 
In environmental science, observational skills go beyond being able to notice something in the world and record it for later. Observational skills include the disciplined and communicative approaches field scientists use to identify, capture, and share their experiences. However, because field scientists ask different questions, visit different sites, and share their work with different peers, there is no standard “observation format” that works for all cases.
Darwin’s field notebook does not look like H. G. Dyar’s, but they both convey a wealth of information generations later. Moving students toward becoming expert field observers takes time and practice, as initial forays can overwhelm novices with too much information and too little structure with which to make sense of.
From this premise, the present study seeks to provide ASE students with deliberate opportunities to practice and receive corrective feedback about their observational skills. The goal is to help students develop their observation and communication skills when writing field entries. By examining other students’ and scientists’ field notebooks, students have the opportunity to see the range of possibilities and choices a field notebook entry offers. By having to evaluate the entries of other students and scientists, students will have a generalizable structure with which to generate and evaluate their own work.
The study will be piloted with students attending overseas field studies at multiple time points to measure growth over time. If the training methods work, they will be trialled with traditional laboratory settings within ASE and other sciences that rely on student’s notebook entries as an indication of learning.