Community Excursion - Historic District

Susan Rice, Beloit College
Author Profile


This is an exercise in observation of a new environment and reflection on how expectations compare to actual observations, as well as on how research following observation can inform impressions and opinions.

Learning Goals

Observation skills, unstructured field notes, reflective writing.

Context for Use

FYI seminar, 16 students. Students completed the exercise outside of class time; the assignment was given during the third week of the semester.

Description and Teaching Materials

This exercise was preceded by in-class exercises to practice skills in objective Description – Interpretation – Evaluation and a small group (3-member) exploration of a small quadrant of campus, with subsequent mapping and group oral reports.

For this activity, students are individually assigned a specific, approximately 2-block excursion location in the historic neighborhoods surrounding campus. The students were given a map with written directions to explore their assigned street, paying particular attention to historically significant structures at specific addresses and to take notes in their preferred media.

Upon returning from their excursion, students were directed to access a website that provided historical and architectural details about their excursion neighborhood and to think about the intersections that might emerge from comparing the history of their assigned landscape to the timeline of the college (from college archives material) that we had examined in class.

They were then asked to post to a Moodle forum, answering the following questions and commenting on 3 fellow students' posts:
  1. A description of the excursion using all 5 senses
  2. A reflection on how reading about their landscape affected their impressions of it
  3. Questions that occurred to them as a result of the excursion and/or reading

Teaching Notes and Tips

The activity was tailored to encourage the students to embrace and articulate a connection between the campus and the surrounding community, specifically the historic neighborhoods that border the campus, and how the relationship between campus and community is long-lived.


Use of the Moodle forum tool for the students to post thoughts and comment on common elements in their experiences, as well as individual observations, was critical. Responses were thoughtful and supportive; the shared information allowed for the students to draw more global conclusions about their excursions and the environment.

References and Resources

The website used was: