Geography and Environment - Political Ecology Field Guide Assessment

GY 328 students -

It forced me to think more deeply and research more thoroughly on a specific political ecology topic, than I would have normally done for a typical essay.



It went beyond my expectations for a uni course- I learned so much about power relations regarding my country- it was an excellent activity for personal academic growth.





Kasia Paprocki


Geography and Environment


Students in GY328 Political Ecology of Development created “Political Ecology Field Guides,” which allowed them to apply the analytical tools developed throughout the course to create an original research product. 

Target audience

3rd year UG students enrolled in GY328.


For the Formative Assessment, students worked in groups to produce field guide maps, identifying different sites in their chosen space that illuminate power dynamics in different ways and how these power dynamics shape ecologies. Most students chose to produce these using Google Maps, a free and easy online software that allowed a lot of flexibility for producing these simple maps. For the Summative Assessment, students wrote individual essays that reflected on the Field Guides produced by their groups. In their essays, students use key themes from the course to examine how power and politics shape the ecology of the space explored by their groups in the Field Guides.

An excellent example of these field guides can be found here.

In this field guide, the students have illuminated a wide variety of different power dynamics shaping the ecology surrounding a hydroelectric dam complex in Brazil, such as labour relations, trans-boundary water governance, and the impacts of corporate media and agribusiness. They have chosen to highlight the links between these various actors and power dynamics through vectors drawn on the map itself, analysis which was developed further in their own essays.

Additional resources included assessment checklists and a self-evaluation form.

This activity was inspired by a similar project used in a course at the University of California Santa Barbara, which I heard about in an interview on a podcast. The results of the Field Guide produced in this course can be found here: I adapted the assignment substantially to fit the needs of GY328.

I was looking for an assessment model that would encourage students to get more invested in the course themes and to think about how they could be applied to material beyond the course that interested them.

I also wanted an assessment model that would more directly integrate Formative and Summative assessments, which was lacking in my previous assessment model.


I believe this assessment made a huge impact on student learning outcomes for the course. Students expressed a great deal of enthusiasm about creating the guides themselves, and the quality of essays produced was overall of a much higher quality than it had been in the past.

While I wanted them to be able to conduct original research for the course, I found that their time for doing so was relatively constrained in a single term. This assessment allowed students to conduct research projects in groups and then to use the data collected through those projects to write individual research essays. The Field Guides turned out to be a great way for students to organize the results of this research collectively in order for them to use them individually in their own essays.

Next steps

In the future I hope to create an online platform for sharing students’ Political Ecology Field Guides with broader audiences. 

I think that the Field Guide assessment could be used in a lot of different kinds of courses. I made sure to embed learning activities throughout the course that encouraged students to think about how they were developing their projects. I think these activities mitigated a lot of student anxiety about working in a format very different from what they were used to.

Two activities included a guest speaker who shared her own “Field Guide” to her ethnographic field site in the United Arab Emirates essentially by walking students through an online map and pointing out notable sites for discussion. Another was a walking tour”Walking Field Guide” to London’s global mining footprint led by a local activist. Students really enjoyed this walking tour and it helped them to imagine how power dynamics can be identified through pointing out specific sites on a map. These activities were supported by a SEEF grant from the Eden Centre.

Finally, I held additional “Coworking Office Hours” during which students were invited to work on their Field Guides with their groups while I was available to answer questions as they arose. Not all students took advantage of these, but those who did said they were really useful, and I think they found it easier to ask questions as they were working than they often do in the individual formality of office hours.