Cornell University: Study identifies ‘transformative learning experiences’ of field courses

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Biologist Michelle Smith discovered the wonders of the ocean while taking a field course in Friday Harbor, Washington, as a doctoral student.

“When you rowed a boat at night the water all around you would glow because of bioluminescent organisms. Learning about the ocean transformed me,” said Smith, the Ann S. Bowers Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Senior Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education in the College of Arts and Sciences.

While many scientists have similar stories about field courses shaping their careers and benefiting their students, Smith said, few studies quantify their effects. To establish statistics about the current state of field studies and to identify places for future growth in this natural setting for active learning, Smith and a team of Cornell researchers from the Colleges of Arts & Sciences and Agriculture and Life Sciences surveyed previous research on field courses. “The impact of field courses on undergraduate knowledge, affect, behavior, and skills: A scoping review” was published in the journal BioScience on Aug. 24.

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