Focus on Faculty: Field Trips

New Toronto condominiums, old New York City tenements and Robarts Library’s recycling bay: these are three things that seem like uncommon places for students to explore, but for Shauna Brail’s Urban Studies students, they are a part of their regular classroom.

INI 437 in New York City, Reading Week 2010 (Photo by S. Brail)

Brail, Director of Experiential Learning and Senior Lecturer at the Urban Studies Program in Innis College, began incorporating field trip events into her courses in 2006, first with INI 437Y, Experiential Learning in Toronto and the GTA, which typically enrols about 20 students.  She wanted to supplement the service component of the course (INI 437Y also includes an internship placement) by bringing her lectures outside the classroom and taking advantage of opportunities both near and far.  Her basic requirements for a field trip opportunity are that it be easily accessible to campus and that it can be completed in the 2 hour window of class time. On every trip, students are given tasks to complete that set up discussion about urban patterns the areas exemplify. Each area is specifically chosen to match one of the four themes in the course.

While it is certainly easier to travel with a small group, Brail firmly believes “you don’t need the 10-person seminar” to make trips work.  In her 100-person course, INI235, Introduction to Urban Studies, she offers a “treasure hunt” in their own backyard. Four-person teams complete tasks on campus to take qualitative and quantitative observations and learn basic research skills. They also learn about campus infrastructure by investigating the recycling processes in Robarts Library, or counting the number of coffee outlets and their locations.

INI 437 2010-2011 at 401 Richmond St, Toronto. (Photo: S. Brail)

Brail’s key piece of advice to fellow faculty wanting to offer field trips is to remain flexible, and establish an open dialogue with students during the course. When she returns to her class next year, she looks forward to the challenges of finding new field sites, because it keeps her thinking: “You have to see yourself as a scholar outside and inside of the class.”

Read more about Brail’s experiences with field trips on CTSI’s Focus on Faculty.