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Field Study Creates Natural and Memorable Learning Environment for Student Participants

Students collaborated with faculty mentors as they traveled across Scotland and nearby islands to investigate nature and ecology

A field study to Scotland and the Faroe Islands last summer placed art and design students in close working proximity to their faculty mentors for three straight weeks, providing students with unique and memorable learning experiences. 

Art education student Anna Harris, for example, recalls painting side by side with Professor Mark Graham while discussing art and technique on multiple occasions. 

Design student Sara Anderson learned from photography professor Paul Adams to “seize the moment.” He led by example, she said, often pulling the car over to capture a unique landscape. 

Elisabeth Baird, a BA student preparing to earn a teaching certificate, observed Professor Dan Barney knitting constantly and said he taught the students to knit as well. It was Barney’s interest in the fiber arts that propelled the group’s visits to textile shops to learn about local weaving traditions.

Unrestrained by formal classes, participating students were granted great flexibility during their travels. The facilitating professors led activities designed to immerse students in the local history, landscape and art-making culture, and the students managed their own learning through individual projects they developed over the course of the field study. Harris’ project, for example, included painting diverse landscapes. Baird made recordings of conversations and the natural environment that she will use to create a landscape of sound through which listeners can “hear” Scotland. She also composed poems reflecting on her experience. 

“Everyone knew we were there to make art, but there was never any pressure,” Baird said. “It was more like, ‘You are artists, and you’re here, and take advantage of this opportunity as much as you can,’ so we were just making art all the time.” 

Art-making happened naturally as the group traveled and explored various landmarks, museums and art studios. “People made notes, took pictures and discussed ideas pretty much ninety-nine percent of the time,” said Amy Ollerton, a graduate student in art education and a middle school art teacher. “Our only time off was when we were sleeping.”

A lot of learning occurred through observation, Baird noted. While traveling together, students had an intimate view of their professors interacting with the people and landscapes, and making art of their own. In addition to formal critiques, students received feedback from their teachers on an informal basis. Students were encouraged to get out of their comfort zones and, during the hours they spent with their professors, they learned about their lives and careers. 

“I saw lots of successful teaching and learning moments happening between professors and students,” Ollerton said, “and many among the students themselves.” 

Although a large focus of the field study was learning about a new place and culture and documenting it through art, “I think we were also meant to learn about ourselves,” Anderson mused. “How we work outside of the classroom and how to work consistently everyday on the same project for a month.” 

I saw lots of successful teaching and learning moments happening between professors and students, and many among the students themselves. As a result of her field study experience, Ollerton said she is interested in giving her art students more space. “Space to be wrong and space to experiment,” she said. 

Ollerton also took note of one professor’s comment that teachers should explore what interests them and get their students involved. “I’m grateful that my professors have involved me in their studies,” she said, “and I’m lucky because pretty much everything interests me.” 

This field study was funded by a Laycock grant, experiential learning funds and a graduate mentoring grant. Artwork made in response to their travels will be displayed on the main floor of the Harris Fine Arts Center starting December 3. The exhibition is titled, “Weaving the Isles.”