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How to Organize Effective Study Trips

Created by the 2014-2015 CBL Faculty Learning Community (Carol Brown, Lidia Radi, Kimberly Robinson, Nicole Sackley, Monika Siebert, Joe Troncale)

Whether faculty or students, many of us are conditioned to think of the “field trip” as a break from the routine and rigor of the classroom. Rather than a time out, we encourage faculty to imagine and frame one-day CBL trips as “study trips” or “field investigations” where the goal is to integrate the learning in the classroom with the learning outside of it.   Study trips are an opportunity for  hands-on inquiry in which students might observe and gather data, apply a concept introduced in the classroom, experience firsthand a site or object described in course readings, or meet people whose perspectives will inform or challenge what they think they know.  Some faculty even consider the trip as a text of inquiry in its own right, to be juxtaposed and compared with our texts in their course. Well-planned, study trips can be extraordinarily fruitful spaces for reflection, discussion, and deepening of knowledge and understanding.

But how can faculty make this happen? While the Center for Civic Engagement offers help in planning and funding study trips, an effective trip requires that faculty take steps before, during, and after the trip that will help students integrate the trip into their learning. Drawing on their own experience, the 2014-2015 CBL fellows offer the following questions and suggestions for helping faculty to do this.

STEP 1: PLANNING THE TRIP

Pedagogical Questions to Consider

  • What are your learning goals for the trip? What do you want your students to learn, do, experience? How will the trip fit into the larger learning objectives of the course?
  • Where do you want to go and why? There is no typical study trip location. In 2014-15, the CCE helped faculty coordinate 40 trips, ranging from the Library of Virginia to the Bon Air Juvenile Detention Center. Sites have included city council meetings, high school classrooms, museums, cemeteries, factories, former tobacco warehouses, theaters, and Indian reservations.
  • When will the trip happen in the course, and why? What readings and content discussions should precede the trip? Which ones should follow? How much time will you mark out on the syllabus for the trip itself and preparation beforehand and debriefing afterward?

Logistical Advice

  • Contact the CCE before the semester for Help finding Sites and Community Partners. Terry Dolson, manager of the Community-Based Learning program, can help you refine your goals and facilitate a connection to a community partner to meet your learning objectives.
  • Communicate and Collaborate with Your Community Partner. Who your community partner (CP) is and how involved your collaboration will be depends on your particular site and the objectives your trip.  Still, an effective trip depends on making contact with your community partner early, identifying one or two people within the institution who will be the most appropriate contact.  When meeting with your CP contact, share your learning objectives and expectations for the trip but also listen for their expectations, goals, and needs.   You will want to understand the organization, find out how you can contribute to its needs and mission, and learn what what areas or issues might be sensitive to the CP.
  • Consult with Faculty who Have Visited Site or Worked with Community Partner. Ask other faculty about their experiences at this site, to learn more about what worked well and what they might tell you about the culture of the place and any particular caveats to pay attention to (e.g. appropriate dress or etiquette to visit). Reach out to Terry Dolson to find out if other faculty have visited your site.
  • Make one “dress rehearsal” site visit without the students. Take notes on what you see and observe. Determine how long the visit, including travel to and from the site, will take. Working with your CP, make a plan and set a tentative date for the visit.

STEP 2:  PREPARING STUDENTS FOR THE TRIP

Pedagogical Questions to Consider

  • How will you establish student expectations for trip? How will you frame the purpose of the trip and and provide students a context and framework for the site and/or organization they will visit? How will you establish your expectations for student behavior, commitment, and work both during and after the trip?
  • How will you prepare students intellectually and emotionally? How will you ask students to articulate their expectations, assumptions, and questions about what they will see?  What room will you make in the course for pre-trip discussion or reflective writing?

Logistical Advice

  • Establish a Date & Time and Alternative Visit Plan with Students. Early in the semester, poll students to find out best days and times for trip.  If trip is required, but students can’t attend as part of the group, figure out how and when students will make-up the visit.
  • Confirm Date & Time of Visit with Community Partner. As soon as you have found a date and time that will work best for students, check in with CP and get approval for day and time. Stay in email contact with partner, confirming time/dates/schedule and numbers of students visiting.
  • Plan, schedule, and confirm transportation. You can apply for transportation funds and arrange transportation through the CCE.
  • Create a Logistics One-Sheet to Send to Students. One sheet should include pick-up and drop-off location and times, cell phone of faculty member or designated student leader, and names/numbers of any appropriate contact people at CP.  If trip requires special equipment or clothes (cameras, comfortable shoes or rain boots, notebook and pen, etc), include this information.

STEP 3: LEADING THE TRIP

Pedagogical Questions to Consider  

  • How will you encourage student engagement and exploration during the trip? What questions will you pose and what information will you provide?  How will you deal with potential distractions (cell phones, texting) or passivity?  Will students stay together in a larger group or will they break off at points to explore the site individually or in smaller groups?
  • How will students capture their thinking during the trip? Will you ask them to write down their observations, take photographs or video, or make measurements? Will they have something specific to uncover or make during the visit?
  • How will you and students interact with Community Partners? Will you the faculty member facilitate the trip or will someone from the CP? Will students be primed to pose questions during the trip and will CP expect questions/dialogue?  If this is a trip where students will meet community members, how will introductions happen and how will connections between students and community members be fostered?
  • Do you want temporal space for group reflection and discussion during the trip? Will you need a physical space for a group discussion during the trip (e.g. coffee shop, room at offices of CP, UR Downtown seminar room)? Will you pair a short reading for discussion during the trip?

Logistical Advice

  • Make clear introductions to People and Locations during the trip. Provide students will clear introductions to CP contacts, explaining the CP’s position and expertise. When move from location to location within a larger site, remind students that it’s time to change locations and then introduce the next location.
  • Model the Kind of Behavior and Inquiry you Want to Set. Consider both the analytical and emotional tone you wish to set  In the classroom, we often keep the emotional tone cool intentionally, asking our students to remain analytical. When you step outside the classroom, there are other kinds of emotional registers: enthusiasm, wonderment, confusion, and sadness. It can be effective, and indeed important, that students see how the trip affects faculty intellectually and emotionally
  • Be Prepared to Punt. Even the best-laid plans go awry. You may have to adjust or fundamentally change your schedule, your goals, or your expectations in the moment.

STEP 4: INTEGRATING THE TRIP INTO THE COURSE

Pedagogical Questions to Consider

  • How will you and students process the trip after you return to the classroom? How will you build time on the syllabus to “debrief” the trip and when and how will you return to the trip later the semester? To what extent will the trip connect to other course readings? How might the trip shape you approach other course readings, and how might the trip itself take on new layers of meaning and significance with new readings?
  • What will Students do with the trip after it’s over? Will their be informal or formal writing assignments that incorporate observations or data gathered during the trip? Will the trip inform a larger group project such as a research presentation or a physical or digital exhibition? Will students bring back what they learned on their trip to others at UR?
  • How will student learning on the trip inform or help Community Partners? Will you or students debrief with community partners about what you learned? Will students share their writing or projects with them?
  • If you have more than one trip during the semester, what is their relationship to one another?