Home > Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project, Teaching > Teaching in the Sun: Revisiting the Study Tour

Teaching in the Sun: Revisiting the Study Tour

Crossposted to Teaching Thursday

Last month we were lucky enough to have the Indiana University of Pennsylvania Honors College World Tour 2009 visit us for 10 days in Cyprus.  Contrasting the approach used by this group to the approach used by the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project to a study tour/field school was quite useful.  In fact, it led to several productive conversations with IUP Economics Professor Nick Karatjes who asked whether there existed a body of discipline-specific scholarship on study tours and field schools.  I confessed that I did not know whether any existed, and this got me to thinking about what a scholarship of study tours or field schools would look like.  What would be the key issues to a discussion of study tours in the context of Mediterranean archaeology or of humanities based study tours more generally?

Thinking on the fly, I propose 3 issues that would be good starting points to a conversation about teaching in the sun:

1) Assessment. As with all things in the academy today, any conversation on teaching in the sun must begin and end with assessment.  How do we assess student learning in immersive environments? Unlike assessment in a classroom environment where many rubrics focus on what goes on within the limited confines of the classroom itself, assessing the success or failure of a field school or study tour must take into account all of the components under the direct control of the project supervisors.  Thus, any mode of assessment must take into consideration everything from the basic logistical details (food, accommodation, travel) to the more typical pedagogical components of the education experience.  The pedagogical experience expands from the laboratory like environment of the classroom to encompass the full range of student experiences. 

2) The Limits of Student Engagement.  As so much of the value of the study tour or field school is the potential for immersion in a unfamiliar place or engaging in the regular practical application of skills acquired either in the field or in the classroom.  Both the need to survive in a foreign country and the need to consistently perform tasks or demonstrate skills in a “real world” environment requires a degree of student engagement in excess of the typical course in the humanities.  The stakes can be higher too.  The failure of a student to perform a task correctly over the course of a field school could produce results that either undermine the goal of the team or invalidate research results.  The inability to deal with a foreign environment can cause a degree of mental discomfort that may exceed the discomfort produced in all but the most rigorous courses.  The key in aspect then in a scholarly engagement with study tours or field schools will be how to successfully engage the students in their skill building exercises and foreign environment both the maximize their experiences and to avoid difficult results.  At the same time, it is necessary to understand the background and potential of a group of students to determine the degree to which they are capable of engaging their surroundings.  Pushing a group of students to go beyond their comfort zone can be good, but going a step to far could have unfortunate results.

3) Structure and Chaos.  One of the key components of any study tour or field school is balancing organized or structured learning opportunities against unstructured opportunities for students to explore their surrounding and engage the local culture on their own terms.  On the one hand, living and working in a foreign country is a great opportunities for students to engage critically with everyday life in a way that is difficult, if not impossible, to simulate within more familiar surroundings (only abroad can going to the post office be an opportunity for cross-cultural critique).  Unstructured opportunities for engagement put greater pressure on the individual student to create a meaningful space for themselves within a foreign culture.  On the other hand, unstructured time requires the faculty to allow students to find their comfort zone even if that is not the exact type of engagement that faculty might wish for the students.  The more organized and structured the engagement with the foreign culture is, however, the more that the experience of living and working abroad is partitioned off into a specific place and orchestrated set of experiences.  Less structured time, however, runs the risk of allowing students to chose not to engage with the host community and, say, hide in their rooms or only engage aspects of the local culture that seem familiar.

I wrote the body of this blog post when in Cyprus and reflecting on it now, I think that the three issues broached here apply to some extent to teaching and assessing learning in a classroom environment as well — except that when running a study tour or field school, these issues are pushed to the foreground as the instructor has far more control over the day-to-day life of the students than an instructor in a more traditional classroom setting.

  1. July 11, 2009 at 11:44 am

    Interesting–I have found a few articles which relate from 3 different outlets: College Teaching, World Archaeology, and The Journal of Experiential Education. Once I have read them I will let you if I find anything to add to the above discussion.

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