The purpose of this study was to examine the effectiveness of field-based instruction on student learning outcomes. Researchers in the past have noted the importance of engaging students on a deeper level through the use of active course designs. To investigate the outcomes of active learning, two field assignments created for two separate undergraduate courses at different four-year institutions were implemented. The intended outcome of both assignments was to broaden and expand students' learning experiences and knowledge. As a result, the authors found that in both settings, the field experiences proved to be worthwhile, enriching students' understanding of the subject matter and facilitating student retention. Based on these observations, the authors propose that instructors implement field-based instruction as a method of active learning into their courses whenever appropriate, allowing students the opportunity to obtain a more "real-world" perspective on the subject matter.
Active learning occurs when students are mentally engaged in processing knowledge in order to construct understanding. Through mental engagement, meaning is made, learning is internalized, and knowledge, skills, and concepts are applied (Starnes & Carone, 2002). In many classroom settings today, however, it is not uncommon to observe students taking a fairly passive role in their learning. This is especially the case when instructors employ mainly traditional methods of teaching (i.e., lecturing, note-taking, and using multiple-choice and true-false exams). Unfortunately, while these methods can be convenient for the instructor, they often do not impact student learning in a significant way. As reported by Wingfield and Black (2005), passive methods of teaching are likely to be more instructor-centered. Conversely, active styles of teaching foster greater student participation, which oftentimes results in more intense and longer-lasting learning. Active learning has also been linked to critical thinking, increased levels of social integration resulting in subsequent institutional commitment, and enhancement of the well-being and personal growth of students (Braxon, Milem, & Sullivan, 2000; Koljatic & Kuh, 2001).
Field-based instruction, a form of active learning, has proven to be worthwhile to enhancing student learning outcomes, including retention of the subject matter, and improving student's problem solving skills (Davis, 1993). Field experiences are learner-centered, allowing students the opportunity to apply ideas and concepts taught in a traditional classroom setting to an environment that stimulates critical thinking and analysis (Hickcox, 2002). Field experiences enable students to further develop cognitively from more simplistic positions (Barr & Tagg, 1995; Ediger, 2001). Even students perceive active course designs to be more relevant to their future as compared to passive course designs (Wingfield & Black, 2005).
Experiences outside of the classroom where students will eventually live and work are useful in teaching students to apply theory to practice (Hickcox, 2002; McCarthy & McCarthy, 2006). Davis (1993) recommends, "... don' t tell students when you can show them, and don't show them when they [the students] can do it themselves (p. 181)." Many educators in higher education recommend that instructors adopt fieldwork and other hands-on activities into their courses. Yet, while the consensus suggests that active learning tends to be more effective than passive learning, active course designs are not necessarily implemented more frequently by educators (Wingfield & Black, 2005). Perhaps part of encouraging educators to incorporate more activities that facilitate active learning into their curriculum involves outlining specific methods for doing so. As part of this study, field assignments created for two undergraduate courses within the family and consumer sciences discipline were implemented to assess the effectiveness of this method of active learning. …