Yale Center for Teaching and Learning

Experiential Learning & Field Trips at Yale

Experiential learning is a holistic learning model based on an integrative process where students first obtain knowledge, then perform an activity (generally with some “real-world” application), and finally reflect on the experience (Kolb 1984), often iteratively. Whereas study abroad programming has reduced its scope across American universities in recent years,  studies show that greater depth, breadth, and progressive iteration prove especially fruitful for student learning and skills growth (Coker, et. al, 2017).

“Experiential” can refer to any learning where instructors guide students to apply conceptual knowledge in actual problems or situations. Classic scenarios include activities and experiences held outside of class and/or off campus: service learning in order to better understand the course content or the methods of the discipline; fieldwork conducting research or practice at an off-campus site in direct contact with the entities or phenomena being studied; community-based research in cooperation with local nonprofits to conduct studies to meet the needs of a particular community; and clinical learning. But, it also includes more conventional active learning techniques used in the classroom, such as problem solving, simulations, case studies, peer-to-peer teaching, and material study. Coker, et. al. (2017) also include internships and leadership, given their real world pressures and cycle of experience, reflection, and action.

Examples

Field Trips

When constructed to include reflection, conceptualization, and activity, field trips can provide incredibly formative and impactful educational experiences for students. Yale professors typically plan field trips in three main forms:

  1. on-campus class outings, e.g. a visit to Yale University Art Gallery, Center for British Art, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Peabody Museum of Natural History, the Babylonian Collection, or a walk around New Haven
  2. optional off-campus activities, e.g. trip to New York City or Boston (both about 2-hour drives)
  3. required off-campus outings (including semi-optional but formally class-organized trips, such as Spring Break trips abroad led by the instructor)

The third category is strictly regulated by Yale College’s guidelines governing field trips: the Yale College Dean’s office defines an “academic field trip” as a “course-related activity that serves educational purposes and occurs outside of the classroom at a location other than on the campus at which the course is regularly taught.” In addition, if a course is regularly taught outside of a classroom or at locations away from campus (as in the case of fieldwork courses), these same recommended guidelines apply. Instructors planning academic field trips along the terms of the third category should contact Dean George Levesque, 203-432-2920.

Experiential learning in the form of field trips is not only pedagogically promising—it is also very popular among students. There is a general Yale student consensus that funded field trips make classes more attractive, and Yale administrators suggest considering October and Spring Break for class field trips. Numerous classes have boosted their enrollment numbers by optioning an international field trip, while others boost student motivation by reserving trip applications to students with an A average.

Other experiential learning opportunities include:

  • A STEM undergraduate student conducts laboratory research for course credit.
  • A geology class takes a field trip to Costa Rica to study volcanic processes.
  • A foreign language class includes a home-stay component and required participation in other cultural activities.
  • A political science class includes a research assignment requiring students to interview the city’s local aldermen.
  • A refugee law class visits a refugee legal aid clinic, and students design projects to help meet the needs of the non-profit organization.

For more examples of field trips and other experiential learning activities, instructors can peruse Harvard’s “Activity Database,” a compendium of activity-based learning activities recently conducted in undergraduate courses.

Recommendations

  • Scale Up - First time field-trip instructors might start with simple outings which fall under the first two categories discussed above. Instructors may also ask their departments for examples of successful field trips led by colleagues.
  • Scale Down - Instructors should make any costs associated with these outings clear at the start of the course, verbally and in writing in the syllabus. They may also work to minimize costs to students, and avoid revising or changing costs, unless to reduce, wherever possible.
  • Ask for Funding - Because funding for field trips is hard to come by (there is no central Yale funding for field trips), departments are the best sources of funding. Additionally, the CTL’s Faculty Teaching Initiatives offers $500 Instructional Enhancement Funds on a first come -first serve, competitive application basis. Funding for the program is replenished annually, at the beginning of the fall term.
  • Consider Transport - Public transportation is encouraged, and transportation must meet Yale’s field trip transportation guidelines. For private transportation outside of Yale, Yale Transportation often recommends Dattco for instructors wishing to book vans, shuttles, and coach buses.
  • Accessibility Awareness - Instructors considering travel or experiences including bodily interaction should be aware of student accessibility concerns, and provide dynamic policies to support students with travel restrictions and mobility disability.

References

Coker, J., Heiser, E., Taylor, L., & Book, C. (2017). Impacts of Experiential Learning Depth and Breadth on Student Outcomes. Journal of Experiential Education 40.1: 5-23.

Kolb, D. A. (1984).  Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Moore, D. T. (2010). Forms and issues in experiential learning. In D. M. Qualters (Ed.) New Directions for Teaching and Learning (pp. 3-13). New York City, NY: Wiley.

Wurdinger, D. D., & Carlson, J. A. (2010).  Teaching for experiential learning:  Five approaches that work.  Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Education.