What is Experiential Learning?
The purpose of field studies is experiential learning: you are approaching the issues of your courses from a different perspective than that possible in the classroom or library. Experiential learning at the BISC takes many forms — from a visit to a community group, through an archaeological walk along the foreshore of the Thames, to a session at a City bank — but they are all opportunities for students to get a broader and more complex take on their studies, to find out things that are not in textbooks, and certainly not on the tourist trail.
When you are in the field, think of yourself as a researcher, seeking out and assessing primary materials. Look for the object, building, or moment in a performance which crystallizes your argument. Don’t be afraid when what you find out on a field study contradicts received wisdom or the arguments developed in class: rather, try to refine or deny such stock analyses by carefully deploying your research from the field. Learn how to ‘read’ buildings and sites, by following the example of your professors and other expert guides. Develop the ability to absorb what guides say to you, whilst simultaneously retaining a skeptical eye on what is being proposed. Have fun on your field studies: they help you develop skills for life!
How to Get the Most Out of Field Studies
- Enjoy the magic moment, but then….! The first time you see the First Folio of Shakespeare or walk the streets of Dickens’ London will be thrilling, but remember that you are a student, not a tourist. As well as observing what you are being shown, you need to start analyzing it immediately and thinking critically about how it relates to what you learnt in your lecture or textbook.
- Think of field studies as primary research: the ideas you derive from these experiences should lend sophistication and originality to your subsequent analysis.
- Field studies require active learning — so take notes, ask questions, join in discussions, and read handouts. What you learn may be crucial to elevating your term-papers and exams above the ordinary.
- Be self-conscious about how culture and history are represented on field studies — whether it be in a traditional museum with artifacts in glass cases, or via oral testimony, dramatizations, an interactive display, or a guided tour. How do these different media affect our responses? What ideologies are taken for granted in visitors, and what is argued explicitlt, implying that visitors need to be convinced? What, indeed, is the history of the institution of the museum?
- Use the primary material derived from field studies as much as possible in assignments and exams — this shows your professors that you have appreciated and understood what they asked you to engage with.