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Encounters in the field

01 May 2019

Encounters in the field

This project intends to enhance the intercultural competences of students through the use of a student-fed interactive app with cases that represent fieldwork situations, and the development of assignments that relate to these cases. These assignments will guide student reflection and discussion in the international classroom, before, during and after fieldwork. The novelty of this project is that it will be student-fed, viz. based on real-life cases provided by students who did fieldwork in previous years, representing situations that students will encounter in the field. Project outcomes will be enhanced intercultural competences and improved reflection skills of students, and insight into the value of a student-fed interactive learning app for the development of intercultural competences.

Download the entire Comenius programme application Encounters in the field


Through fieldwork, students learn to gather and analyse data in an unfamiliar context, and to interpret these data with a critical eye (Yigitcanlar, 2013). Fieldwork also enables students to acquire and develop ‘soft skills’ such as intercultural competences (the ability to develop targeted knowledge, skills and attitudes that lead to visible behaviour and communication that are both effective and appropriate in intercultural interactions; Deardorff, 2006) and ethical awareness (Scott et al., 2006), especially in geographically and culturally distant parts of the world.

The problem is that these soft skills are not effectively addressed in the curricula: students do not know what to expect regarding intercultural differences in the field, and the learning of fieldwork is not optimized. In recent years, the applicants have implemented initiatives to improve the development of intercultural competences (see Learning Line Intercultural Research Competences IDS 2017Student Chapter Self Study Report IDS 2013-2018). Outcomes of these implementations indicate that:

  • Students value the contribution of frontal lecturing and reading texts on interculturality before their fieldwork as ‘limited’, as the concept remains rather abstract.
  • Students’ learning increases through discussing experiences abroad with peers and staff directly after fieldwork.
  • Students have difficulty reflecting on their intercultural experiences and lack the skills to do so.
  • Despite all efforts, students still indicate they could be better prepared for doing fieldwork, in the sense of ‘what to expect’ and ‘how to act’.

Project description & goals

The aim of this project is to enhance the intercultural competences of students through:

  1. the use of real-life cases that represent fieldwork situations in an interactive learning app.
  2. the development of assignments that are linked to these real-life cases. These assignments will guide student reflection and discussion, both as preparation – by making use of the diversity of the international classroom – and during and after fieldwork.

The novelty of this project is that it will be student-fed, viz. based on intercultural encounters provided by students. The app will draw upon cases provided by students in previous years and represent real-life experiences in fieldwork in the Global South. The use of cases based on the experiences of students has two specific advantages. First, the cases reflect real fieldwork situations and thus match the experiences of students. Second, using cases of other students creates a safe classroom environment, as students are invited to share their attitudes and opinions in a more indirect way, via the playful exchange of experiences of their peers. Moreover, by discussing these with students from different cultural backgrounds, we can optimally benefit from the international classroom.

Project design

Intercultural competences of students will be trained before, during and after fieldwork according to the PEER model: Prepare, Engage, Evaluate and Reflect (Holmes & O’Neill, 2012).

  • Prepare: before fieldwork, in a diverse and international classroom setting, students will explore their assumptions regarding intercultural differences, through a confrontation with real-life cases, and individually prepare an assignment on these cases. They will discuss and reflect upon these cases with their peers and the teacher.
  • Engage: during fieldwork, they will engage in different intercultural encounters, through data collection for their research and also in day-to-day life. There will be an interactive discussion board to exchange and reflect with peers upon experiences.
  • Evaluate: in the final phase of fieldwork, students will evaluate their ‘critical incidents’ – intercultural experiences that have significance for them – by elaborating on their case in a playful manner (written, vlog or comic style), which will feed the app.
  • Reflect: upon return, students will discuss and reflect upon their case individually and in a classroom setting.

Figure 1. Timeline of training of students’ intercultural competences structured through the PEER model in the IDS and SD-ID programme

Expected results

The expected direct outcomes of the project are:

  • Improved intercultural competences of students, regarding skills, attitude and knowledge, and deeper learning regarding the significance of intercultural differences for fieldwork activities, so students are better prepared for fieldwork.
  • Improved reflection skills of students, related to their skills, values, attitudes and behaviour.
  • More insight into the opportunities and limitations of a student-fed learning app in developing intercultural competences.

The expected indirect outcomes are:

  • Concrete recommendations for using this approach (real-life cases and related assignments) in other educational settings.
  • The indirect enhancement of intercultural competences of the staff involved, as they will participate in classroom assignments and discussions.


  • A new web-based learning application that explicitly targets fieldwork-related intercultural competences by drawing on real-life cases provided by students.
  • Tutorials for students with assignments for students, included in the application and for use in tutorials.
  • a workshop to train teachers.



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