Mary McCulloch

  • Socialisation in fieldwork settings: implications for classroom practice

    Mary McCulloch
    University of Glasgow

    Session 1c

    Monday 3 September 2007, 15.45-16.45

    Research paper

    Themes: Employability, Skills development, Better practitioners, Better understanding of the discipline

    The purpose of this paper is to explore the role that socialisation processes within fieldwork settings perform in supporting student learning, and the implications of this for classroom practice. This paper is based on observations and interviews with staff and students while on fieldcourses, and interviews on their return to their departments. It also draws on the evaluation of a project to embed employability skills in an accounting and finance curriculum.

    The findings from both these studies indicate the significance of socialisation in the learning process. The accounting and finance students suggested that socialisation was a skill that they should be taught as part of their programme of study and that this would be of benefit to them during their university career, as well as beyond it. Students on fieldcourses and the staff who teach them indicated the importance of social interaction and cohesion for performance in their group tasks and for the enhancement of the learning experience overall. Furthermore, the findings suggest that student socialisation within the disciplinary group is important for developing the student’s sense of becoming part of the academy. For example students talk about knowing what it means to be a geographer, to feel that they are becoming an archaeologist or to know what it means to do accountancy, in relation to this process.

    In this paper, I will discuss these findings in the light of Lave and Wenger’s (1991) concept of legitimate peripheral participation and how identity formation and motivation lead to full participation in learning. The findings will be further explored through Thomas’ (2002) concept of institutional habitus which advocates linking the academic and social experience of students by promoting social networks. In the paper I will discuss the ways in which social and academic networks are fostered in fieldcourse settings and argue that the research validates Thomas’s contention that academics can influence the development of social networks through “collaborative teaching and learning practices” (Thomas, 2002: 436).

    I will conclude by identifying some of the lessons learned from these fieldcourse settings for classroom practice.


    • Lave, J. and Wenger, E. (1991) Situated Learning. Legitimate peripheral Participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
    • Thomas, L. (2002) Student retention in higher education: the role of institutional habitus. Journal of Education Policy. 17 (4) 423-442.