|Teaching and Learning Forum 2009 [ Refereed papers ]|
Touhidur Rahman and Helen Spafford
School of Animal Biology
The University of Western Australia
Field trips are considered essential in biological science education. The focus of this study was to understand student and teacher attitudes towards field trips and the importance of field trips for student learning. This paper describes the outcomes of a survey used to assess attitudes of students and teachers in the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, at The University of Western Australia. Results from this study indicate that students and teachers agree that field trips are important for student learning but they have different perceptions about field trips including the importance of field trips in professional career development, the optimum number of trips, duration, and group size of field trips. The value of field trips to learning and ways of improving field trips are discussed.
Mere activity doesn't constitute experience. To 'learn from experience' is to make a background and forward connection between what we do to things and what we enjoy or suffer from things in consequence. Under such conditions, doing becomes a trying; an experiment with the world to find out what it is like; the undergoing becomes instruction - discovery of the connection of things (Dewey, 1964).Learning in biological sciences traditionally takes place in one or more of three different environments, the classroom or lecture theatre, the laboratory and the field (outdoors). In biological science education, the field trip is considered a key component of the curriculum, and when combined with lectures, problem sets, readings and workshops, provides vital experience necessary for converting students into successful professionals. Field trips offer students the opportunity to learn what is involved in on-ground management, make comparisons with other management cases, and sharpen their own integrative ability, insight and judgement without actual real-life costs of being wrong. The main principles of field trips are common; (1) use of a natural environment for exploring phenomena and objects of the nature; (2) use of real scientific methods (collecting data, observation, creating hypotheses, performing experiments), (3) improve active student engagement; (4) naturally integrate knowledge and reinforce inter-disciplinary relationships, and (5) support of social learning processes (discussion, co-operative learning) (Zoldosova & Prokop, 2006).
However, there is controversy whether each unit in the biological sciences needs field trips and whether the learning outcomes of a field trip are worth the time and money. Are these superficial activities or bona fide learning experiences? Furthermore there are questions about the length of the field trip and how often field trips should be conducted. Mirka (1970) and McKenzie et al. (1986) refer to three sources for the reason a gap exists between the educational potential of field trips and its realisation. These are (1) logistic limitations, (2) lack of adequate teaching/learning materials, and (3) teachers' unfamiliarity with the outdoor as a learning environment. It is evident from the literature that lack of curriculum design, planning and implementation in field trips often results in poor outcomes in student learning. This paper presents the outcome of a preliminary survey, which allowed both students and teachers to express a range of opinions regarding the value of field trips in students learning to clarify its need, numbers, duration, and group size.
Surveys were distributed to all students and teachers in FNAS via email. In addition, an online questionnaire was available to undergraduate and postgraduate students. A total of 112 undergraduates, 22 postgraduates and 24 teachers participated in this study (Table 1). All participants were informed about the purpose of the survey. Participation in the survey was anonymous and voluntary.
|Participant category||Number of responses|
|Complete survey||Incomplete survey|
Figure 1: Student responses to the question: Field trips have helped to increase my knowledge base.
Figure 2: Students' responses to survey questions: (A) field trips are necessary to improve learning, (B) field trips helped me to better understand the subject materials, (C) experience on field trips will be helpful in my future career and (D) field trips have been well integrated with the classroom learning.
More than 90% of students expressed that field trips in biological science must be compulsory (Figure 3A). More than 81% of students responded that units had field trips they attended but 15% of students believed there were insufficient field trips (Figure 3B). The majority of students thought there should be one or two field trips per unit and some thought there should be more (Figure 4A). The majority of students considered 10-20 numbers per group on a field as an appropriate group size but some believed that numbers of students per group in a field trip is not important (Figure 4B). There was variation by students in the favoured duration of field trips (Figure 4C; Table 2). Students also indicated via comment that they disliked logistical aspects of field trips e.g. long travel times, poor meals and accommodation (Table 2).
Figure 3: Student responses on field trips towards (A) Field trips should
be included and (B) units have had sufficient field trips.
Figure 4: Students' responses towards (A) optimum numbers of field trips per unit,
(B) appropriate group size in a field trip, and (3) the best length of a field trip.
|Aspects students liked most about field trips||Aspects students disliked about field trips|
Figure 5: Teacher response to: "Are field trips an important part in units they have been involved?"
Figure 6: Teacher responses to questions whether field trips (A) increase student knowledge (B) are
necessary to improve student learning and (C) increase student confidence with the subject matter.
Results indicated that 50% of teachers agreed that field trips would be helpful in students' future career, while 8% disagreed that field trips would be helpful in future career (Figure 7A). On the other hand, 42% of teachers are not sure about the importance of field trips in students' future career. Among teachers, 83% considered that field trips are well integrated with their units (Figure 7B). More than 90% of teachers thought field should be compulsory (Figure 8A). There was a diversity of opinion about the appropriate number of field trips in each unit (Figure 8B), the appropriate group size (Figure 8C) and the duration of a field trip (Figure 8D).
Figure 7: Responses of teachers to whether (A) field trips will be helpful in
students' future career and (B) field trips are well integrated with units/courses.
Figure 8: Responses of teachers as to whether (A) field trips should be compulsory, (B) the optimum
numbers of field trips per unit, (C) appropriate group size in field trips and (D) the best length of field trips.
Fieldwork can have a positive impact on long-term memory due to the memorable nature of the fieldwork setting. Effective fieldwork and residential experience in particular, can lead to individual grown and improvements in social skills. More importantly, there can be reinforcement between the affective and the cognitive domain, with each influencing the other and providing a bridge to higher order learning.However, the present study revealed that there is disagreement between students and teachers regarding the specific value of field trips. For example, students responded that in field trips they learn to develop problem-solving skills, enhance constructive social relationships, work in groups and get hands-on experience in ways that add value to their everyday experiences (Table 2), which would be helpful in developing a professional career. Teachers in FNAS expressed mixed opinion about the importance of field trips in students' future career. Dilon et al. (2006) reviewed 150 studies from 1993 to 2003, and found substantial evidence that fieldwork, properly conceived, adequately planned, well taught and effectively followed up, offers learners the opportunities to improve their knowledge and skills in ways that add value to their everyday experiences in classroom and their future career as well.
Fido and Gaford (1982) and McKenzie et al. (1986) reported that teachers often avoid outdoor activities because they were unfamiliar with philosophy, technique and organisation of field trips. Lack of teacher commitment and poor organisation might jeopardise the benefits that could be derived from field trips. To make field trip an effective learning tool and therefore have a positive impact on future career, careful consideration of the field trip must be carried in three steps: preparation before the tour, activities during the tour and evaluation after the tour (Bozdogan, 2008). In this way, learning objectives and skill development can be clearly articulated and evaluated. Students in FNAS believed that field trips were not well integrated with units (Figure 2D) and not well-organised (Table 2), although more than 83% of teachers had a different perception (Figure 7B). Studies of the impact of the field trips on student learning showed that role of teachers in pre- and post field trips activities were factors that have the potential to enhance students learning (Anderson, 1999; N. Orion & Hofstein, 1994). Gennaro (1981) found that students introduced with pre-visit instruction showed greater overall knowledge acquisition from field trip, while, Anderson (1999) reported that post-visit activities associated with a field trip are more effective catalyst for continued insights in students learning.
The majority of both students and teachers responded that field trips should be compulsory in units/courses offered by FNAS but disagreed in how field trips should be organised in terms of the numbers of field trips per unit, duration of field trips and optimal size in a field trip. Teachers have a significant role in organising an effective field trip, therefore teachers should take into account factors such as students' prior experience and preferred learning styles while organising a field trip.
Teachers must design and organise field trips in the way that help students to address and learn in a flexible adaptive manner. Anderson et al. (2006) stated that the key factors influencing the effective learning in field trips involves teachers' frequently cited effective pre-planning, appropriate curriculum and engaging/hands on experience for students as being most influential. Based on earlier studies of several workers, Orion (1993) proposed a model for the development and implementation of field trips effectively based on the following criteria,
Anderson, D., Kisiel, J. & Storksdieck, M. (2006). Understanding teachers' perspectives on field trips: Discovering common ground in three countries. Curator, 49(3), 365-386.
Boyle, A., Conchie, S., Maguire, S., Martin, A., Milsom, C., Nash, R., et al. (2003). Fieldwork is good? The student experience of field courses. Planet, Special edition 5, December. http://www.gees.ac.uk/pubs/planet/pse5back2.pdf
Bozdogan, A. E. (2008). Planning and evaluation of field trips to informal learning environments: Case of the energy park. Journal of Theory and Practice in Education, 4(2), 282-290.
Dewey, J. (1964). Democracy and education. New York, USA: Macmillan.
Dilon, J., Rickinson, M., Teamey, K., Morris, M., Choi, M. Y., Sanders, D., et al. (2006). The value of outdoor learning: Evidence from research in the UK and elsewhere. School Science Review, 87(320), 107-111.
Fido, S. H. & Gayford, G. C. (1982). Field work and the biology teacher: A survey in secondary schools in England and Wales. Journal of Biological Education, 16, 27-34.
Gennaro, E. A. (1981). The effectiveness of using pre-visit instructional materials on learning for a museum field trip experience. Journal of Research in Science Education, 24, 121-128.
Krepel, W. J. & Duvall, C. R. (1981). Field trips: A guide for planning and conducting educational experiences. Washington DC: National Education Association.
McKenzie, G., Utgard, R. & Lisowski, M. (1986). The importance of field trip: A geological example. Journal of College Science Teaching, 16(17-20).
Mirka, G. D. (1970). Factors which influence elementary teachers use of out-of-doors. Ohio State University, Ohio.
Orion, N. (1993). A model for the development and implementation of field trips as an integral part of the science curriculum. Journal of School Science and Mathematics, 93(6), 325-331.
Orion, N., & Hofstein, A. (1994). Factors that influence learning during a scientific field trip in a natural environment. Journal of Research in Science and Teaching, 31, 1097-1119.
Piaget, J. (1964). Development and learning. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 2(3), 176-186.
Rickinson, M., Dilon, J., Morris, M., Choi, M. Y., Sanders, D. & Benefield, P. (2004). A review of research on outdoor learning. NFER, Field studies council occasional publication 87. [Executive summary] http://www.nfer.ac.uk/research-areas/pims-data/summaries/fsr-a-research-review-of-outdoor-learning.cfm
Scarce, R. (1997). Field trips as short-term experimental education. Teaching Sociology, 25(3), 219-226.
Zoldosova, K., & Prokop, P. (2006). Education in the field influences children's ideas and interest toward science. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 15(3-4), 304-313.
|Authors: Touhidur Rahman and Helen Spafford, School of Animal Biology, Faculty of Natural & Agricultural Sciences, The University of Western Australia. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please cite as: Rahman, T. & Spafford, H. (2009). Value of field trips for student learning in the biological sciences. In Teaching and learning for global graduates. Proceedings of the 18th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 29-30 January 2009. Perth: Curtin University of Technology. http://otl.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2009/refereed/rahman.html
Copyright 2009 Touhidur Rahman and Helen Spafford. The authors assign to the TL Forum and not for profit educational institutions a non-exclusive licence to reproduce this article for personal use or for institutional teaching and learning purposes, in any format (including website mirrors), provided that the article is used and cited in accordance with the usual academic conventions.