Home » Projects » Symposium on Field Study

Symposium on Field Study

Establishing and Sharing Best-Practices at the Intersection of Place, Pedagogy, Innovation, and Technology

  • Symposium on Field Study: Establishing and Sharing Best practices at the Intersection of Place, Pedagogy, Innovation, and Technology
  • July 9-11, 2015
  • Hosted by Colorado College, Colorado Springs, CO

The inaugural Symposium on Field Study at Colorado College gathered together innovative faculty as well as field study support staff to begin to highlight and share the best practices around this innovative teaching strategy.

Faculty from 11 ACM colleges and other prominent liberal arts colleges participated in the symposium. Presenters shared a variety of cross-disciplinary course examples and discussed technology and field study, cross-divisional support, assessment, and teaching to the whole student via field experiences.

Materials about the Symposium on Field Study


Note: Content below is adapted from the project proposal.


In contrast to large lectures and MOOCs, the liberal arts’ nimble, immersive, and small classes are uniquely positioned to make use of field study pedagogy to create high-impact experiential learning opportunities. The investigation of field study pedagogy, its learning outcomes, and its contribution to students’ holistic development is an emerging field. Much of the study related to field experiences has been done within the co-curricular outdoor education context, not from the academic perspective.

Field studies at Colorado College

Field studies at Colorado College

Therefore, there is an important need for faculty in liberal arts institutions to come together to define the goals and practices of field-based pedagogy — a teaching and learning approach that leverages the small class size and the focus on teaching that characterize liberal arts institutions. An inter-institutional collaboration of faculty and staff will add to the body of knowledge on how to enhance field teaching and learning, not only to the benefit of participating campuses, but also more broadly for all faculty, especially for those in disciplines that are newly exploring the pedagogy of field study.

The Symposium on Field Study will highlight the variety of field study work being done at Colorado College, in the ACM, and in other top liberal arts programs. The event will attract faculty and higher education experts from outside institutions to share their work, compare pedagogies and programming, and explore best practices.

A broad range of teaching and learning settings will be covered: field-based inquiry in the natural and social sciences, place-based studies in the humanities, visits to community resources such as museums or businesses, meeting with outside experts, and service-based reciprocal relationships within academic course objectives.

Colorado College’s current strategic plan calls for the enhancement of immersive learning opportunities like field study, and it has recently created an Office of Field Study to leverage the college’s strength and extensive experience in both immersive learning and field study. One of the advantages of the Block Plan is the full immersion into a topic and, often, full immersion into a special, specific place that enhances instruction and learning. In fact, many disciplines at CC rely heavily on field study to achieve the courses’ desired educational objectives.This approach has allowed some academic departments here to gain national recognition in undergraduate education.

CC has been approached by numerous institutions for insights, recommendations, and guidance on the Block schedule and immersive learning options, including field studies. Enhancing the use of immersive field-based experiences is beneficial to participating colleges (not on the Block Plan) because field-based pedagogy leverages the location, intimate faculty-to-student ratio, and the norm of interactive learning to showcase the unique value of liberal arts education. While the Block Plan might give CC more opportunities to experiment and re-tool field-based components of courses, the Block Plan is not necessary for successful field study: field-based experiences could be created in day trips and in special periods such as January terms, May terms, and in the summer.


This symposium’s goals are to create collaboration between faculty from multiple institutions and different academic departments and to examine pressing opportunities and challenges such as the innovative use of technology in field- based teaching and learning, new perspectives of field-based study in the humanities and humanistic social sciences, the diverse mindset of millennials and field work, disability and inclusiveness considerations in field studies (and how technology can help), field study learning outcomes and assessment, and risk management in faculty-led academic programming.

The symposium will meet FaCE grant goals in two ways. First, it will allow faculty practitioners from diverse ACM institutions to collaborate on defining and refining field-based teaching and learning, addressing innovative opportunities (pedagogical development, field work in the humanities, technology in the field) and pressing needs (risk management, supporting students with disabilities, assessment). Second, it will help liberal arts institutions cultivate and enhance the intense immersive and personal learning that is delivered in field study settings, and that also makes the liberal arts so powerful for students.


The sessions will include presentations by faculty and staff who are experts in a dimension of field teaching as well as workshops where faculty and staff discuss new collaborations in pedagogy and share plans for implementing best practices. The symposium will culminate in a one-day field trip with demonstrations of the topics discussed in the symposium in a participatory on-site workshop format (e.g., use of drones, GIS, and 3-D imaging in the sciences and social sciences).

  • The keynote speech will highlight an overarching theme that impacts all field study pedagogy across the disciplines. The mindset of millennials and their need for field-based learning experiences and authenticity is a very salient topic for this symposium, and faculty from CC, including Gail Murphy-Geiss (Sociology), Kathy Giuffre (Sociology), and Tricia Waters (Developmental Psychology), are all well versed in this subject and can present on the specific issues of how to best teach millennial students.
  • The workshops/sessions will make up the majority of time at the symposium. Each workshop will center on a major facet of teaching in the field, and we are already working with CC faculty to identify workshop presenters. Because of the cost of travel and lodging associated with non-CC faculty, we have made initial contact but have not yet confirmed many non-CC presenters.
  • The field trip will be on the last day of the event. It will take place around the Pikes Peak region, and will have demonstrations of the topics discussed in the symposium in a participatory on-site workshop format (e.g., use of drones, GIS, and 3-D imaging in the sciences and social sciences, the study of environmental ethics).
  • Dinner discussions will focus on specific stand-out course examples taught by faculty participants.
  • Upon completion of the symposium, faculty will be asked to write articles to be published in the proceedings, which will then be published by CC and made available broadly.
Field pedagogy across the disciplines

These workshops will be either concurrent sessions or sequential sessions. The session in the natural sciences will cover the field science pedagogy in Environmental Science (Miro Kummel, CC) and Geology (Megan Anderson, CC). The social sciences session will draw on the field teaching and community engagement expertise of Carol Wickersham of Beloit College, Ashley Burns of Amherst College, and Mike Taber from Colorado College. Anne Hyde (History, CC), Esther Redmount (Economics, CC), and Mark Smith (Economics, CC) all collaborate with community stakeholders to highlight place-based issues in the field. The humanities and humanistic social sciences will explore the pedagogy for short-duration and long-duration field trips (Shawn Womack, Theatre and Dance, CC; Joan Ericson, Japanese, CC).

Field study pedagogy, technology, and millennials

These sessions will focus on how technology can facilitate learning in the field. Students and faculty are on the move: how does mobile technology like using tablets contribute (and hinder) learning? What is the benefit of going without technology? What are effective ways to promote acquisition, sharing, and retention of knowledge? How would technology help students in the field connect to their peers on campus? What are the potential synergies with combining digital humanities with field teaching? What are the instructional possibilities associated with a Unmanned Aerial Vehicles program (UAVs, aka drones; CC has a one-year-old UAV program) across the disciplines? Matt Gottfried will share his knowledge on the academic possibilities of UAV programs. Megan Anderson (Geology, CC) uses a large variety of geo-sensing technology to teach Geophysics. Dan Johnson (Economics, CC) has the use of tablets well integrated in his Economics field trips.

Supporting students’ holistic growth and the development of a sense and ethic of place

Immersive and experiential education in field study not only supports academic development. It plays a critical role in cultivating students’ social, civic, psychological, identity, and ethical development. Field experience has the potential to increase students’ sense of belonging, especially among student populations that are historically underrepresented in the institution. Field studies also pose important questions on how to effectively adapt and accommodate the pedagogy for students with disabilities. In this session, faculty will present and discuss examples of courses that impact students’ growth, examining its pedagogy, efficacy, and boundaries. Heather Horton, CC’s Wellness Resource Center Director, and Jan Edwards (CC’s Director of Accessibility Resources) can lead this workshop.

Risk management, health, and safety

Faculty-led field trips vary in the amount of institutional support. What are the current practices in providing support and oversight regarding health and safety? What are lessons learned about how best to reduce students’, faculty’s, and the institution’s exposure to risk? Drew Cavin (Director of Field Studies, CC) and Inger Bull (Director of Off- Campus and International Programs, CC) can lead this important discussion.

Program evaluation and assessment

How do we know that the practices discussed in the symposium work? As delegations form their implementation plans for their colleges, it is important to consider what assessment approach they should take. What assessment strategies work well to inform faculty pedagogy? We will invite CCs Director of Assessment and Program Evaluation to facilitate this workshop.

Dissemination Strategies

The success of the symposium could be assessed by the implementation of the best practices discussed in the symposium–in individual courses as well as in departments and institutions. The dissemination of the proceedings will broaden the audience of the knowledge created in the symposium. On each campus involved with the symposium, the knowledge and practice shared will be integrated in the course planning and design of future field-based courses. Participating faculty could return to respective campuses and work with other faculty to spur innovation and implementation of practices discussed at the symposium.

Symposium participants will also bring back to their campuses creative pedagogical ideas, knowledge of best practices, and implementation plans that will enhance learning, increase interest in disciplines that have not extensively used field study pedagogy, and reduce exposure and liability. Discussions between faculty who teach similar courses in different institutions could spawn creative, cross-disciplinary course offerings within and across institutions.

The symposium is expected to produce a printed or digital volume of proceedings to document and share its findings and recommendations. This publication could jump-start the creation of a Journal of Field Study. The research papers documenting the effectiveness of field study or positing new ways of conceptualizing field study courses will be available to a broad audience. They will be widely distributed for use by faculty across the nation and can serve to inspire new field study opportunities.

Share this page