So you’ve decide to make field study happen in your course or curriculum. And you have an idea of what form it might take. There is much to consider on the logistical front. Designing and executing a field experience for your students takes work, coordination, and careful planning. Make sure that you have enough time to plan for things like transportation, food, activities and course content. You may also want to make time to get to know the place where you are taking students so that you can provide guidance when they arrive at the site. Below are a few things to ponder as you prepare and plan.
It can be daunting, all this work to do in making a field study happen. But thinking about your goals and seeking inspiration from the resources above and from your colleagues and students can put you “all in”. Here are some planning ideas.
Backward design is an approach that many have used to design a field study and the method can help you to create a meaningful experience by prompting you to think about your learning objectives first, before planning your activities and assessments.
In order to make an out-of-class excursion meaningful it is helpful to create time for reflection where students can make personal and academic connections before, during and after their learning experiences. Consider using L. Dee Fink’s Taxonomy of Significant Learning Experiences to craft reflective questions that focus both on what a student has learned and also how a student has grown in their own self-awareness, their understanding of others and their renewed sense of values and ethics.
Active learning experiences throughout the trip serve to bring students together and get everyone involved in the learning experience, so think about how this strategy may be part of your plan. The experiential nature of field study can lead to gains in both the cognitive and the affective domains.
Talk to people, and consider planning your field study to be in collaboration with other faculty. If you are co-teaching a class, are one of many professors teaching multiple sections or know someone in your program or department that may benefit from your excursion, consider working with other faculty when when you plan for a trip. You can also consider working with faculty that are from different disciplines in order to create a rich interdisciplinary experience.
Consider the timing of the field study within the architecture of a course. Does it fit better in the beginning, sometime in the first few weeks of the term? So as to be able to be “looked back on” through the term? Or would it be best to do the field study after the foundational material of the course is covered? When are the students “ready” for it in terms of the skillset they are acquiring within the course? What needs to happen before (and after) the field experience for it to be most impactful as a learning experience? Such questions are worth pondering from both your viewpoint as the instructor, and from that of the students.
Consider how the field study is (or is not) a part of your course’s grading scheme. Are there preparation assignments beforehand? Is there some deliverable during or after the field study? Are graded components built into the field study itself as stand-alone scores? Or perhaps what students return from the field with becomes part of multiple graded assignments? Students are going to want to know not only what to expect on the field study itself (see Preparing Your Students and Yourself for Field Study), but also how it is part of their course grade.
One of the major logistical considerations in field study planning is transportation to a place and, depending on the trip itself, transporting the students while there. How reliable is your chosen mode of transportation? How feasible is it for your students in your course (see below)? What are the benefits and limitations in comparing possible transportation modes in terms of the available finances, student learning, and the overall experience?
Many of the places we would like to go with our students in field study require permissions and/or access. This could be a simple verbal agreement with a private landowner, admission fees to a performance or museum, or formal documentation from a government agency. Be sure to make these contacts and establish understandings beforehand.
How are the students (and you) going to “be” while there on your field study? You’ll need to consider food and other life necessities as you plan. What is available for students to eat, and by what means? What are the restroom facilities like, and what would be their availability?
Safety is the most important consideration in planning a field study. And there is much to think about it in terms of student wellbeing: physical, mental, and emotional. Some questions are straightforward such as: What might we expect for weather or other environmental conditions (e.g. noise, dust, smells)? How might we best dress for the field trip? Is there gear we need in order to be safe? Is the political climate such that the place is safe to go? Where is the nearest healthcare facility to the field area?
Other issues are less obvious but just as important. Is there any concern within your group, interpersonally or with relationships? Does the place you are going have the potential to cause emotional or mental distress? Having a sense of your own students and their sensitivities is very important.
You should also consider how your group’s presence is a risk to the place you go in terms of environmental fragility, cultural sensitivity, object preservation, and other viewpoints.
It is important that we make every effort to design learning experiences that are accessible to all, and this includes field study. While the physical, situational, and environmental challenges of field study can be greater than in-classroom, on-campus learning, there are many ways to imagine making the learning experience available to all students. The DEI considerations and challenges in field study are many (Hall, 2002; Feig et al., 2019; Gee, 2019). Also, be sure to consult with your students about their concerns and perspectives, before, during, and after the field experience.
Feig, A.D., Atchinson, C.L., Stokes, A., Gilley, B. (2019) Achieving Inclusive Field-based Education: Results and Recommendations from an Accessible Geoscience Field Trip. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 19(2), 66-87.
Gee, N. (2019) Contested Perspectives on the Social Impacts of a Residential Field Trip. Journal of Experiential Education, 42(4), 321-335.
Hall et al. (2002) Fieldwork and Disabled Students: Discourse of Exclusion and Inclusion. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 27(2), 213-231.