SPRINGFIELD, Ohio – One way Wittenberg University professors emphasize the importance of hands-on experience for students is by integrating field study activities into classroom curriculum.
Off-campus excursions have long been a component of a Wittenberg education. Student and professors often collaborate off-campus on various research topics. This semester, for example, Margaret Goodman, associate professor of biology took, members of a class titled “Moonshine, Mountains and Music: Natural History and Folklore of the Southern Appalachians,” to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The class is an immersive study of the area’s physical geography, ecology and folk culture. On site, the students were able to study the natural forest habitats and measure the heights and diameters of domestic trees. At night they slept in a primitive campground to experience first-hand the conditions of the environment’s early settlers.
“Just being there was an invaluable experience,” Goodman said. “I think everybody had good fun. They adjusted remarkably well.”
Goodman’s course is part of the WittSems (short for Wittenberg Seminars) program. The WittSems are topical courses designed by individual instructors or teams of instructors based on their intellectual interests and training. Required of all first-year students, the WittSems offer a wide variety of topics, emphasizing seminar-style learning, that serve as an introduction to the core matters of academic inquiry at Wittenberg.
Another new WittSems class titled “Dancing with Dervishes and Passionate Nomads: The Middle East in Film and Literature” is team-taught by Associate Professor of History Tammy Proctor and Assistant Professor of History Darlene Brooks Hedstrom. The class went to Detroit to gain perspectives on Middle Eastern culture.
Members of the class experienced worship practices in an Ecoptic Orthodox church, an Egyptian Orthodox church, a Shiite Mosque and a Jewish synagogue. They also visited the Islam gallery in the Detroit Institute of Art and dined at a traditional Lebanese restaurant.
“The students get a sense of reality instead of relying on media,” Brooks Hedstrom said.
Upon their return, class members wrote about the experience and made comments on each other’s postings using the Wittenberg courseware-tool Moodle.
“There was a more immediate interest in the subject matter,” Proctor said. “There was a sense of connection there.”
Professor of Biology Horton Hobbs has long been an advocate of the hands-on approach to education. Among the preferred sites for students in his caving classes to visit are caves in state parks in Kentucky and Ohio.
His Cave Ecology students walk (and sometimes crawl) through caverns as they observe cave formations and critters, and the students in his Limnology class observe inland waters, marshes and bogs. Upon their return, students in the Cave Ecology class were assigned projects that involved research on their field study observations. Hobbs’ excursions are not mandatory, but he encourages students to experience the “different environmental settings.”
“You can do everything in a lab, but I don’t think you can gain (the same experience),” he said. “It seems crazy to me to not take up these opportunities.”
Field studies have encouraged some of his former students to continue caving long after they complete their courses. As Wittenberg University Speleological Society’s (WUSS) academic adviser, Hobbs has accompanied his students around the globe to explore and survey karst regions that feature three-dimensional topographical landscapes shaped by the dissolution of a soluble layer or layers of bedrock, usually carbonate rock such as limestone or dolomite.
While all of these classes integrate field studies into their curriculum, some establish their foundations in it. “Introduction to the City” is an urban studies course taught by Professor of Economics Jeff Ankrom, Professor of Geography Ralph Lenz, Professor of Political Science Robert Baker, Professor of Psychology Clifford Brown and Professor of Religion and Springfield Mayor Warren Copeland.
A mandatory field activity at the start of the semester called “Getting to Know Springfield” includes a tour of the city, and students observe features such as housing and schools. The course revolves around those observations.
“It literally says on our syllabus ‘If you are unable to participate in this activity, you should drop the course immediately,” Brown said.
Professors unanimously encourage participation in field components.
“Students learn much better out there,” Hobbs said. “It’s more rewarding.”
By: Christi Lue '09
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