Importance of Field Study Programs
by Jim Wilson
Retired, Biological Sciences Dept., Sierra College
What are the advantages to our communities of offering a field study program? Why do so many instructional disciplines and areas offer some type of field or practical experience (Art, Photography, Forestry, Biology, Geology, Geography, Physics, Physical Education, Ecology, Astronomy, Botany, History, Agriculture, Zoology, Political Science, Environmental Horticulture, English, etc.)?
Why do departments at colleges and universities offer field experiences in addition to laboratory and classroom instruction? Why should you become involved, participate and contribute to Sierra College's Field Study programs?
The field programs provide an opportunity to apply previous knowledge, view real examples set in a worldly framework, and opportunity to be involved, physically, with real situations in the field. All of this promotes a deeper understanding of the subject being studied and an improved ability to recall the information and experiences, later, as needed.
Real learning opportunities
It is understood by all educational disciplines and potential employers that personal experiences gained by working with "real" world activities and in "real" settings enhance and improve learning, increasing understanding and knowledge. Since activities in the field are never limited to one discipline or aspect, they will always broaden awareness and emphasize connections between ideas and practical realities. Practical experiences are invaluable and the fact that Sierra College has always been a outstanding educational leader in higher education is largely due to its long standing commitment to providing real, hands-on, learning opportunities for its students.
To the sciences and other disciplines (academic and vocational), the field study programs provide our students with that opportunity to become "personally" involved in their learning through these practical field applications and hand-on experiences. You would not expect to develop excellent athletes or skilled carpenters or fluent writers or accomplished mathematicians without including opportunities in their education that allow them to practice, apply principles and perfect their skills. Stand-alone field study classes and field trips within a classroom course provide valuable experiences that serious students within these disciplines should not be either denied or missed.
They are offered by Sierra College for the same reasons that we offer any laboratory sessions or learning opportunities. We should continue to encourage our students at Sierra College to become directly involved and participants in their own education. It is our responsibility to provide and facilitate the best learning experiences possible. Frankly, one of Sierra College's outstanding strengths, in the past and now, is our continuing commitment to our students, providing them with practical experiences in addition to theoretical exposures, in their chosen fields. Our students graduate and/or transfer knowing "how to do it" as well as being able to "describe all about it".
See, share and understand
Field studies and field activities give the students a chance to see the world (its cultures, diversity and realities) for themselves. As they work as a group, they share what they are experiencing with the others. Instead of simply watching an image on the screen or listening to the experiences of others, they are personally experiencing the environment, interacting with it directly, engaged in the activities at the site, working with the processes to be studied, and observing first hand the learning that each new location can provide.
Seeing life and the world first-hand promotes a clearer understanding of world, its workings and relationships. It reinforces previous classroom lessons and brings a higher level of "realism" and "believing". How would one understand or be expected to understand without being exposed directly to the manifestations of concepts and ideas. Only by being immersed within an environment or practical activity can one "feel" its importance, its impacts, and its dynamics with your senses of touch, hearing, smell and sight. As a living and thinking organism, one uses their senses to make comparisons, discover similarities and differences and to observe the specific relationships in the world.
The outdoor classroom
Often similar to controlled laboratory activities, field work (less controllable) provides our students with more time to focus, think, study and learn about new ideas as they present themselves and to witness specific examples in the context of their interdisciplinary realities. Often more than the four walls of a classroom, the outdoor classroom is more enjoyable, beautiful, inspiring, stimulating and relaxing (all at the same time), creating an optimal learning environment. Students will learn, retaining the concepts, examples, principals, and processes involved and coming away with a more in-depth understanding of what they have seen and experienced.
The unique sharing environment created by working together in the field facilitates increased learning and awareness beyond that most of us would attain if we were in the same locations by ourselves. Many vacationing visitors think they "know" Yosemite, Muir Woods or Death Valley, but participating in a structured field class provides the students with much more because of special information resources, planned activities, guided learning, increased sharing of observations. Field classes demonstrate and utilize the benefits of teamwork combined with individualized learning.
Field classes benefits
Field classes bring us back full circle in education, conserving the best from the past for the future, by "teaching class under the tree."
Field Experiences and Field Study classes provide(s):
- Practical experiences – real world knowledge about life
- Real examples of information discussed in the classroom
- Opportunities for sharing different perspectives and views on important topics
- Locations to gather real ecological field data
- Interactions from which you can discover your strengths, limitations, abilities and skills
- Integration of concepts and information from various disciplines
- Personal exposure to peoples and other places, cultures, ecosystems through travel
- Increased knowledge and broadened understanding of the world and its workings
- Integration of introductory and advanced principles
- The first exploratory course in a discipline for many students - open door courses
- Professional experiences required by many related jobs
- Extended laboratory experiences
- Formation of instant learning communities
- First-hand observations of human interactions with the environment
- Places to learn and practice professional sampling and field collecting techniques Illustrations of real world complexities
- Application of theoretical or classroom knowledge to real situations
- Critical thinking problems involving complex and current issues waiting to be solved
- A chance to put one's life into a realistic perspective
- Study of the Earth's global systems of interaction
- Explorations in to the natural elements involved in change and stability within the environment
- Openings for students of all disciplines to come together
- Opportunities for personalized learning
- Appreciation for the natural world, its resources and history
- Real subjects to study and to improve observational skills
- Learn to live and work with others, supporting each other during group learning activities
- Direct exposure to museums, businesses, and other centers of learning
- Increased access to current research, guest speakers, community programs and special events
- Teamwork activities that result in enhanced learning outcomes for all
- Chance to work with diverse peoples focused on a common goal
- Opportunities for personal growth, maturing of a person's perceptions and perspectives
- Appeal to students and community participants that would not otherwise become involved
- Increase writing and communication skills – critical verbal and writing skills
- Enjoyable learning experiences, and
- Time to appreciate the beauty of the world in which we are involved.