The Educational Value of Field Trips: Advantages and Disadvantages

The Educational Value of Field Trips: Advantages and Disadvantages
Imed Bouchrika, Phd by Imed Bouchrika, Phd
Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content

Field trips provide some of the most unforgettable moments in a student’s life. Not only does this activity break the monotony of classroom lectures, but it also offers students experiences that are not commonly encountered within school grounds. Despite this, trends over the past decade have seen institutions of higher education either reduce or forego the enrichment activity in favor of conventional schoolwork. So, are these excursions still necessary? If so, why are field trips good for students?

This article probes the educational value of field trips, detailing their advantages and disadvantages. In reading through it, educators will know of the reasons why field trips are important, especially given today’s access to information, as well as the types of students who benefit the most from them. Students, on the other hand, would know how these excursions are leveraged by their teachers.

The Educational Value of Field Trips: Table of Contents

  1. Why Field Trips are Good for Students
  2. The Challenges in Organizing Field Trips
  3. Types of Field Trips to Consider
  4. How to Ensure Field Trip Success

While field trips have been a staple in primary and secondary education, they are currently on a decline, as museums in the United States have reported a significant decrease in student traffic in the past decade. Furthermore, many schools, according to the American Association of School Administrators, have decided to forego the enrichment activity altogether (Vogt, 2009).

Field trips are gradually being pushed out of school curricula for a variety of reasons, not least of which are the costs involved as well as the bigger focus on academics implemented by schools. In addition, school excursions consume a lot of time and can take their toll on educators, considering that some of them did not receive ample training in planning and conducting trips of that nature (Michie, 1998).

However, evidence of the efficacy of field trips as learning tools as well as a means of stimulating student engagement has surfaced, with participants performing better in a variety of aspects (Greene et al., 2013). Among the many reasons why these excursions are organized include the belief that it boosts cultural awareness (79%), reinforces personal development (74%), as well as provides a positive impact on education (Student & Youth Travel Association, 2016).

Why Teachers Organize Field Trips

Chart context menu
View in full screen
Print chart

Download PNG image
Download JPEG image
Download SVG vector image

Source: Student & Youth Travel Association

Designed by

Moreover, this activity also adds layers of thought to the manner in which subjects are viewed, making students more empathetic toward cultures and historical figures and more discerning when dealing with science, art, and music. As such, this could lead to a potential comeback of this time-old tradition in the coming years.

Why Field Trips are Good for Students

A field trip, by definition, is a school-sanctioned excursion away from the classroom and other traditional study environments, to observe, interact with different settings, conducting basic research, and/or experiencing new activities not readily found in school (Behrendt & Franklin, 2014). It is a form of experiential learning that allows students to experience concepts discussed in textbooks firsthand and pick up new knowledge through interaction. As such, it carries a slew of benefits.

Academic Impact

A well-organized field trip is a foremost example of knowledge transfer. The new layers of thought acquired by students through observation, interaction, and the narrative provided by guides and lecturers, can be applied to day-to-day scenarios, and this includes reaction papers and quizzes. Therefore, it helps them improve the retention of knowledge.

In fact, in 2009, a student survey showed that 53.78% of students strongly agree that field trips have helped to increase their knowledge base (Rahman & Spafford, 2009). A 2015 study echoes this as it was proven that science-oriented field trips can improve the scores of middle school students in science tests and increase their overall proficiency in the subject matter (Whitesell, 2015). Interestingly, the ones who exhibited the biggest growth are poor students and those belonging to ethnic minorities.

Source: Rahman, T., Spafford, H.

Similarly, students are known to retain a significant amount of information when visiting a museum. According to a 2013 study based on tours to the Crystal Bridges Museum in Arkansas, over 70% of the students who visited recollected the historical context behind some of the paintings (Greene et al., 2013). Upon assessing the reaction papers to the tour, the participants displayed a 9% growth in critical thinking, and, once again, the biggest gainers are those from high-poverty institutions, posting a growth rate of 18% (Greene et al., 2013). The tests were conducted weeks after the students visited the museum, thus proving that knowledge from the tour was indeed retained and can be applied to succeeding activities.

Furthermore, it was found in another study that 54% of teachers believe that field trips contribute to the academic performance of their students while 53% posit that excursions are complementary to the lessons and activities in curricula (Student & Youth Travel Association, 2016).

Promotes Hands-On Learning

Although connectivity in today’s digital age has largely bridged the information gaps between students and subject matter not found in the classroom, experiencing new concepts or activities firsthand brings forth knowledge that is not fully encapsulated by non-tactile media. It stimulates recall (Explorable Places, n.d.) as learners get to engage with subjects in various ways, potentially assigning sensory interactions to each, which can serve as mental markers.

Lessons can also be presented in different modalities (Explorable Places, n.d.), with the instructors not restricted to the confines of textbooks and digital media. For instance, interactive science museums can be organized into sections that students can visit in a particular order to simulate the concepts discussed in class. Teachers or guest lecturers play an active role as they direct the experience in its entirety, accounting for the important points to take note of and ideas to ponder on, somewhat akin to the manner in which tour guides disseminate information.

Reinforces Cultural Growth and Personal Development

Museums are one of the primary destinations of field trips and for good reason. Each painting and installation is a portal to a specific time, location, and set of socioeconomic conditions, any of which potentially influencing how a piece was rendered in an artist’s mind. This line of thought serves as a lens through which artworks are viewed and analyzed. Students may not know of this or might not know how to apply this had they not gone to a museum or a gallery for their field trip.

In relation to the aforesaid concept, the study of Greene and co-researchers (2013) shows that students who had their field trip at the Crystal Bridges Museum experienced a 6% standard deviation increase in historical empathy. This means that the attendees gained at least a basic grasp of how life was like in previous times and in specific places by viewing a series of old American paintings. As such, 70% of those who attended admitted to understanding the thoughts and feelings of early Americans based on the artworks.

The same goes for tolerance. Nearly 70% of those who attended thought that artworks that are critical of the U.S. should not be censored (Greene et al., 2013). While this may not be too significant from the outset, the level of tolerance expressed by the students can be applied when entertaining people with dissenting ideas, which is particularly useful when forming plans and strategies, as well as when immersing in other cultures.

Moreover, there was a spike in interest in art museums after the field trips, especially among minority students and those from high-poverty schools (Greene et al., 2013).

Increases Student Engagement

Any new concept might not register in the minds of students if they do not find it engaging, relatable, or applicable to their lifestyles. With this, field trips break the barrier of apathy by allowing students to freely interact with subjects like significant objects, places, personalities, and processes. The excursions also sharpen students’ observation and perception skills as they engage in sensory-based learning (Nabors et al., 2009) and gain a deeper understanding of the subject matter.

In addition, abstract classroom concepts can be viewed from a more holistic perspective (Berer, 2016). Unstructured ideas can take form through the lectures that accompany the points of interest in a visited site. This is particularly helpful to students who have trouble keeping up with the classroom discussions since they have tactile or relatable examples to go with the lectures. They would also recognize how certain concepts function in real life.

Speeds Up Succeeding Lectures

Field trips carry bulks of information that teachers can leverage as reference points during lectures (Kelly, 2019). Rather than fleshing out new bodies of knowledge, which takes a lot of time and effort, they can simply refer to relevant segments of the excursion and add more context to what the students experienced. Learners can likewise use the reference points when reviewing lessons as opposed to reading entire chapters.

The Challenges in Organizing Field Trips

Although field trips have clear and proven benefits, there are several concerns that can compromise an excursion’s effectiveness as an instructional medium, or worse, keep a trip from taking place, to begin with. These include funding (25%), planning (20%), time management (14%), and transportation (5%), which will be discussed in detail below (Julian Tours, 2018).

Source: Julian Tours

Large Expenses

One of the major stumbling blocks to organizing field trips is the huge expenses involved. Excursions consume a large chunk of the budget if a school is to shoulder the expenses. Meanwhile, should the financial burden be passed on to parents outside of tuition fees, not everyone will be able to afford the trips, thus leading to inequity in trip opportunities (Peetz, 2019).

To illustrate the scenario better, let us take the case of Montgomery Country Public Schools. The cost for a single bus on a one-day school excursion amounts to $300 (Montgomery Country Public Schools, 2020). Factoring in the school’s student body of over 160,000, the school approximates the total transportation expenses to be at $1.6 million assuming everyone attends a single trip, and this does not include the costs of food, venue registration, and the like. The network took about 2,100 trips in the 2017-2018 school year alone (Montgomery County Public Schools, 2020).

Granted, the expenses were shared by multiple institutions, but the fact still remains that school excursions are costly. Addressing this concern has been a challenge to institutions, and has led to creative means of funding, such as holding fundraisers (Peetz, 2019) and maintaining independent budgets.

Maintaining Order and Safety

Keeping students safe, behaved, and orderly in public spaces is another major headache for educators (Berer, 2016), especially if the site to be visited typically attracts hordes of visitors. Students can easily get separated from the group, which exposes them to danger. Meanwhile, unruly behavior could lead to structural damage that will have to be paid for, disruptions of concurrent tours, and the school having a negative public image.

Logistics

A field trip can be a logistical nightmare without close coordination between the teaching staff and the venues to be visited. Anything can go wrong, from the program not living up to the teacher’s expectations to conflicting schedules, which can cut the trip short. There are even cases when the venues turned out to be not conducive to learning (Behrendt & Franklin, 2014), thanks to the large volume of tourists, even though they are relevant to the topics of classroom discussions.

Lengthy Duration

Field trips typically last for the entire day and some even require students to stay overnight (Behrendt & Franklin, 2014). Without proper planning, it could cause a disruption to all the classes in a school day, leading teachers to cramp up lessons that could have been fleshed out better. Students, in turn, will have to accelerate their pace of learning to compensate for the missed school day. Furthermore, a trip adds more to the plates of both students and the faculty, since it requires a culminating activity.

Types of Field Trips to Consider

Field trips are not limited to factories, museums, and government agencies. The spectrum of options is so diverse that every academic subject has multiple possible venues should it necessitate an excursion. For instance, a study by Whitesell (2015) revealed that in New York, among the most popular destinations include aquariums, zoos, and botanical gardens. Sometimes even a trip to a different part of the school would suffice, as long as it is interactive and complementary to the curriculum.

Source: Whitesell, E.

An excursion can either be formal, which has an organized structure and well-defined expectations, or informal, which grants students the freedom to pick activities and environments to experience (Behrendt & Franklin, 2014). Beneath these two main branches are a plethora of viable choices. To narrow them down, let us focus on the field trip purposes listed in Behrendt and Franklin’s 2014 study.

Trips for Firsthand Experiences/Strengthening Perception and Observation

Students are eager to learn in environments that foster new ideas and afford experiences that cannot be replicated in classrooms. Places like zoos, safaris, and interactive science museums carry a wealth of stimulation for younger learners (Adventure Student Travel, n.d.), as they learn more about animals, observe animal behavior, and interact with sophisticated gadgetry, respectively. Older students, on the other hand, will gain a deeper appreciation for art, culture, and history (Greene et al., 2013) should they visit an expansive art gallery or immerse themselves in foreign and clandestine communities.

Possible Locations

  • Art gallery
  • Science museum
  • Zoo
  • Safari
  • Nature park
  • History museum
  • Government agency
  • Performance art venue
  • Botanical garden
  • Factory or production plant
  • Cultural festival
  • Community outreach locations

Trips to Stimulate One’s Interest in Science

Having myriad branches, science is a broad subject taken up throughout a student’s entire scholastic life. Each branch of science comes with a stream of options, from research centers and laboratories for older students to science museums and eco-parks for young ones. The goal of visiting research centers is to observe the nature and process of experiments conducted by industry experts and tenured university students while museums spark wonder in scientific possibilities. Students do not need to go far and wide to find additional motivation as a trip to the school’s viewing room to watch documentaries and science films would do.

Possible Locations

  • Research center
  • Research university
  • Science laboratory
  • Factory or production plant
  • Archaeological site
  • Science museum
  • Zoo
  • Botanical garden
  • Ecotour
  • The school’s viewing room

Trips That Add Relevance to Learning

Given that field trips are often supplementary bodies of knowledge that support or corroborate concepts in classrooms, venues that present incisive approaches to learning are ideal for this purpose. Once again, the school’s viewing room serves as an ideal destination since students can watch educational films without having to spend too much time on travel. On the other hand, technical topics are best handled by visiting locations that conduct deeper fields of study.

Possible Locations

  • The school’s viewing room
  • History museum
  • Historical site
  • Research center
  • Science laboratory
  • Government agency
  • Art museum and gallery
  • Botanical garden
  • Factory or production plant

Trips That Promote Personal Development

Developmental excursions might not always be rooted in academics, but the values imbibed by learners can be applied in their daily routines, including schoolwork and relationships with peers. As demonstrated by the study of Greene and colleagues (2013), a trip to an art gallery caused a cultural, personal, and artistic awakening in students. Other locations that immerse students in different lifestyles and cultures potentially have a similar effect.

Possible Locations

  • Art museum/gallery
  • Less-fortunate communities (community service)
  • History museum
  • Historical site
  • Foreign country

Virtual Field Trips

In the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic and logistical constraints, online technologies have paved the way for learners to take excursions from the comfort of the classroom. Virtual field trips allow students to explore locations that are essential to their studies and personal development (Raines, n.d.). Like their physical counterparts, these excursions feature guided tours to museums, galleries, national monuments, and research institutions. Besides virtual field trip websites, there are also educational mobile apps that deliver worthwhile experiences (Common Sense Education, n.d.).

Based on Raines’s study, she leveraged virtual field trips across five different courses to 148 respondents, and the results are overwhelmingly positive. 94% of the participants found the experience “excellent” while the remaining 6% rated it “very good.”

This does not mean, however, that tangible field trips are set to be replaced by elearning excursions. After all, the former permits physical interactions with subjects and interrupts the stoic classroom mindset. As such, virtual trips can be considered as viable alternatives since they cost less, take less time to complete, do not pose challenges to logistics and student safety and security, and provide limitless exploration (Raines, n.d.).

How to Ensure Field Trip Success

The success of a field trip, despite its potential for positive outcomes, is not guaranteed (Behrendt & Franklin, 2014). Without the proper reinforcement during the event as well as follow-up activities, such as lectures and reaction papers, its effects would be short-term (Dierking & Falk, 1997). On the other hand, a well-organized excursion can influence long-term retention and a more productive perspective toward academics and non-curricular activities. There are factors that contribute to a field trip’s success and can help get around potential roadblocks.

Explore Funding Options

Costs are a huge concern when organizing field trips. The school’s allocated budget might not be enough to cover all the expenses involved, from the cost of food and transportation down to a venue’s registration fees. As such, a teacher could have the parents shoulder some of the fees (AMLE, n.d.) as they send out letters with reply slips stating the situation, coverage of the trip, and the breakdown of costs. The expenses can be divided among the parents of students who agree.

Another method is to hold a fundraiser that involves not just the parents, but also members of the faculty and other relevant groups like the parent-teacher association (NEA Member Benefits, n.d.). Sponsorship deals are also possible, but it would involve proposals and communication with department heads and those controlling the budget.

Opt for Nearby Excursions

Field trips do not need to be far if the region, or even the school, has its share of locations of scientific, historical, or cultural value (NEA Member Benefits, n.d.). After all, a nearby trip is cheaper and does not consume too much time away from academics. Internet research or a drive around the region could unearth potential sites and trip ideas. There is also the option of staying in school and inviting distinguished speakers over to give out colorful lectures (AMLE, n.d.). Some schools have their own gardens and research centers that can serve as field trip destinations as well.

Have a Concrete Plan

A plan that details all the teacher’s expectations and the venues that can influence the desired outcomes can spell the success of a trip since it quantifies the trip’s purpose and exact benefits (Behrendt & Franklin, 2014). With this, a trip can easily be incorporated into the curriculum while its objectives can be clearly communicated to students to keep everyone on the same page. Being meticulous is an asset in this stage as an educator researches the possible sites and their rates and takes suggestions from peers and students.

Close coordination with the venues is necessary. Details like available student programs, the program sequences, crowd control, security, the availability of guides/guest lecturers, and the most ideal schedules should be accounted for. One should keep in mind that a populous open space has an abundance of distractions and potential dangers, which is why controlled spaces like museums and galleries make for ideal destinations (Kelly, 2019). Having a backup venue is also a good idea so the trip will not be hindered by sudden cancellations or conflicts in schedule.

Think of Sanctions and Clearances

Students can get rowdy. In fact, a study revealed that in A.Y. 2017-2018, 24% of teachers in low poverty schools reported that student behavior problems have made a disorderly environment that made it difficult for students to learn. The same concern was experienced by 58% of teachers in high-poverty schools (Griffith & Tyner, n.d.).

Given that students have the tendency to be even more carefree once out of the classroom, teachers must implement harsh sanctions on bad behavior (Kelly, 2019). This will keep them orderly and behaved in public spaces, avoiding unruly behavior and possible structural damage in places like museums, galleries, and laboratories. As an added measure of safety, health clearances and other relevant paperwork should be accomplished prior to the trip.

Organize Culminating Activities

Follow-up exercises like reaction papers, graded recitations, and quizzes affirm the knowledge retained by students in field trips, thus teachers can have the students discuss their favorite artifacts or answer questions about the sites visited during the excursion (NEA Member Benefits, n.d.). Before the trip begins, the teacher can inform students that there will be a quiz and/or reaction paper. This will keep them focused on the programs presented by the venues and the trip’s objectives.

Coordinate with Other Departments

Considering that field trips consume a large part of a school day (Behrendt & Franklin, 2014), it would be wise for the organizer to coordinate with other faculty members so they can perform the necessary adjustments to their lesson plans early on. This would help minimize the delays caused by the excursion. Plus, other teachers might find ways to incorporate the excursion into their own taught subjects, which increases the trip’s educational value.

Go Virtual

If excursion plans fall through, teachers can go for virtual field trips. There are websites that provide virtual tours to venues of all kinds, including museums, national parks, science museums, zoos, and aquariums (Fink, n.d.). These tours are often free or have minimal fees, thus eliminating financial concerns. Moreover, virtual tours are much shorter than traditional field trips. They afford teachers the space to conduct follow-up activities within the duration of the class.

Field Trips Are Still Necessary

Despite the number of excursions gradually decreasing (Greene et al., 2013), field trips hold more than enough educational value to be retained in school curricula. Studies and surveys have proven that a well-planned trip results in positive academic and developmental outcomes that students can leverage inside and outside of the classroom (Greene et al., 2013; Behrendt & Franklin, 2014; Whitesell, 2015). As a means of hands-on learning, the trips help students improve their observational skills, develop an affinity for art and culture, and be more engaged in their studies.

Furthermore, should learners take trips that allow them to immerse in art, history, and community service, they learn to empathize more with other sectors of society, even those from different eras. The experience can be considered transformative as a study has proven its long-term effects (Greene et al., 2013).

Field trips do have a large room for improvement. At the end of the day, these excursions cost a lot of money, cause distractions and delays in academics, provide undue stress to teachers, and can pose risks to students (Peetz, 2019; Berer, 2016; Behrendt & Franklin, 2014). However, there are corresponding resolutions to each concern, all of which are attainable through proper planning and coordination. In addition, not all excursions have to be far, costly, and time-consuming. Nearby places, including those in school, would suffice. And if all else fails, teachers can always take the virtual route (Raines, n.d.).

Of course, there is no assurance that every excursion will deliver the desired outcomes, but it is still more ideal to learn from an institution that strives to make those outcomes possible rather than one that discards an activity that promotes academic, cultural, and social development outright.

 

References:

  1. AMLE (n.d.). Rethinking Field Trips. Columbus, OH: Association for Middle Level Education.
  2. AST (n.d.). The 8 types of field trips to think about taking. Adventure Student Travel Blog.
  3. Behrendt, M., & Franklin, T. (2014, January 8). A review of research on school field trips and their value in education. International Journal of Environmental and Science Education, 9 (3), 235-245.
    https://doi.org/10.12973/ijese.2014.213a
  4. Berer, S. (2016, January 9). The benefits of learning through field trips. Teach Thought.
  5. Common Sense Education (n.d.). Virtual field trip apps and websites. CommonSense.org.
  6. Dierking, L. D., & Falk, J. H. (1997). School field trips: Assessing their long-term impact. Curator, 40, 211-218. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.2151-6952.1997.tb01304.x
  7. Explorable Places (n.d.). The benefits of field trips. ExplorablePlaces.com.
  8. Fink, K. (2020). 25+ amazing educational virtual field trips—Spring 2020. We Are Teachers.
  9. Greene, J., Kisida, B., & Bowen, D. (2013, September 16). The educational value of field trips. The Journal, 14 (1). EducationNext
  10. Griffith, D. & Tyner, A. (n.d.). Discipline reform through the eyes of teachers. Teachers on Discipline.
  11. Kelly, M. (2019, September 14). Field trips: Pros and cons. Thought Co.
  12. Julian Tours (2018, February 9). The hardest problems for field trip organizers – and how to solve them. JulianTours.com.
  13. Michie, M. (1998). Factors influencing secondary science teachers to organise and conduct field trips. Australian Science Teacher’s Journal, 44, 43–50. ERIC
  14. Montgomery County Public Schools (2020). Fiscal Year 2020: Please provide a report on all field trips taken last year by school. Montgomery Schools MD.
  15. Nabors, M.L., Edwards, L.C., & Murray, R.K. (2009). Making the case for field trips: What research tells us and what site coordinators have to say. Education, 129 (4), 661-667. ERIC
  16. NEA (n.d.). How field trips boost students’ lifelong success. NEA Member Benefits.
  17. Peetz, C. (2019, February 4). Inequities discovered in student field trips. Bethesda Magazine.
  18. Rahman, T., & Spafford, H. (2009) Value of field trips for student learning in the biological sciences. In Teaching and Learning for Global Graduates. Proceedings of the 18th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 29-30 January 2009. Perth: Curtin University of Technology. https://otl.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2009/refereed/rahman.html
  19. Raines, D. (2014). Virtual field trips: An online learning experience. Online Learning Consortium.
  20. Reeves, R., & Rodrigue, E. (2016, June 8). Fewer field trips mean some students miss more than a day at the museum. Social Mobility Memos.
  21. Student & Youth Travel Association (2016). A comprehensive survey of the student travel market. Student & Youth Travel Digest.
  22. Vogt, A. (2009, October 27). New study finds school districts struggling in response to economic downturn, bracing for more cuts. American Association of School Administrators.
  23. Whitesell, E. (2015, July). A day at the museum: The impact of field trips to informal science education institutions on middle school science achievement. IESP Working Paper #03-15.

Newsletter & Conference Alerts

Research.com uses the information to contact you about our relevant content. For more information, check out our privacy policy.