Initial Publication Date: October 9, 2017

Teach in the Field

Concepts on this page were derived from faculty discussions and presentations at multiple InTeGrate and On the Cutting Edge workshops.

Field experiences present an opportunity for students to apply classroom knowledge in solving concrete and tangible problems. Collecting their own data not only teaches students about how data is collected, but also allows them to observe the phenomena that are described by scientific data. Field work can also help to build skills in using instrumentation and methods. Field experiences and data collection can appeal to students' affect by providing students with a sense of ownership for the project data. Data analysis and synthesis following field experiences can also help students with critical thinking, quantitative thinking, and presentation skills.

Field experiences can range in size and type, from a single class activity to a multi-week or semester-long project, a semester or year long independent project, or a class service learning project. Students can also get field experiences through internships that can prepare them for the workforce or even provide a seamless path to a job after graduation.

Pedagogic guidance for teaching in the field

Field experiences can help students make connections between content and skills learned in the classroom and real world problems. These experiences help students understand the relationships between observations vs. inferences vs. predictions in an explicit way, with lots of opportunity for practice. They can also build practical skills, such as learning how to work with technical equipment and software which in turn can bolster students' resumes.

Learn more about teaching in the field from the On the Cutting Edge Teaching Geoscience in the Field module, which was developed following a 2010 workshop on the topic. The module provides information related to the place of fieldwork in preparing students, benefits of field work, guidance for helping students develop field skills and habits, and advice for designing field experiences. While focused on geoscience, much of the information provided can be extended to other fields as well.

Effective strategies for teaching in the field

  • Practice making observations, inferences, and predictions in the field; explore the difference among these three pieces.
  • Explicitly model scientific behavior and the process of science, explaining to students each step of the process, the uncertainties, the caveats, the dead ends, etc.
  • Use a think-aloud approach to solving field problems and demonstrating scientific reasoning. An example of how to do this from the geosciences is: (1) start work in a field area by sharing with students all your thoughts about the first outcrops, (2) observe landscape images with students, sharing what you observe and think, including near-field and far-field interpretations, (3) what you notice about geologic representations, like a cross section, and (4) how you would find yourself on a map and how you would get from point A to point B.
  • Have students generate, explore, develop, and test multiple working hypotheses, to show that data are the arbitrator of which hypothesis is most likely, but that new types of data may change this.

Opportunities to strengthen teaching in the field

Field experience can be carried out anywhere - even in urban environments. For example:

Field experiences can also incorporate service learning. For example:

Materials and Resources for Teaching in the Field