Social Action and Integrative Learning
School of Integrative Studies | College of Humanities and Social Sciences

What is Field Studies

Discovery

Overall a wonderful, life-changing experience. No one should ever do art without having the opportunity to do something like this.
-undergraduate student
AVT 399/599: Under a New Light: Experimental Drawing and Sculpture

Field studies, as practiced by Field Studies (FS) at SAIL, is an immersion model in which classroom material is explored and applied within a given field experience. Field Studies at SAIL defines “field experience” broadly to encompass a wide spectrum ranging from the natural world to human populations in their respective social and cultural contexts and settings, including how individuals behave in families, neighborhoods, and communities. Within these field experiences, students apply their theoretical classroom knowledge in “real world” settings, through the collection of empirical data (whether quantitative or qualitative), which then becomes theoretically interpreted using a praxis model of application. Field experiences offered through Field Studies at SAIL create educational experiences that bridge the classroom and the community.

Field Studies at SAIL courses are inherently interdisciplinary and integrated. While courses offered through Field Studies at SAIL are discipline-based (i.e. biology, anthropology, art, sociology, etc.), they draw on multiple subjects in their examination of culture, sociopolitical issues, economics, the natural world, etc. to allow for a rich and textured exploration of the subject. Field Studies at SAIL, in keeping with the School of Integrative Studies' interdisciplinary pedagogy, as well as being open to all George Mason University departments, supports a wide range of courses across the university such as anthropology, art, biology, cultural studies, dance, geography, geology, history, and sociology. In many ways field studies is synonymous with experiential learning; field studies opportunities often manifest, for example, in service learning, internships, or other learning opportunities with community partners.

Field Studies at SAIL courses are innovative, combining scholarly research with practical application. Each field studies course includes a rigorous academic component; the instructor develops a full course syllabus in accordance with George Mason University policies, and students are required to produce an end product such as final paper, presentation, or exam. Assessment of student learning within FS courses is done in a variety of ways and is in large measure dependent on the discipline of the class, but includes the following common elements: academic credit is awarded for learning, not just for experience and must evidence university-level learning; students are required to demonstrate competency in the appropriate subject matter(s) as determined by the course instructor; and academic credit is awarded only for learning that encompasses a balance between theory and application.

Field studies classes are designed and facilitated by Mason faculty and affiliates and the courses are experienced-based. These courses can be as short as one weekend or as long as three weeks and can be either domestic or international. Field studies can be stand-alone classes or embedded within learning communities or traditional classes.

Field studies courses are place-based. While side trips to various destinations as they pertain to the primary region of the course may occur, the majority of the course is held within a general radius of the given site. Field Studies at SAIL is committed to field experiences that are collaborative, respectful of, and allow for rich and sustained interaction between and among members of the surrounding community, with the goal of creating a reciprocal learning dynamic between and among faculty, students, and community members. FS makes every effort to include local knowledge, local resource people, and respect for local cultural norms and practices within course syllabi. The field studies model as developed and employed by FS uses local providers (i.e. lodging, restaurants, boat and other vehicle rentals, etc.) to the extent possible in order that money goes back to the communities where students conduct their research.

Regardless of academic discipline, field studies courses are also eminently respectful of the natural world and strive to leave as little trace on the land or local community as possible.

Having the opportunity to experience conservation studies in the real world allowed me to understand the information discussed in the course at a higher level, to learn concepts and skills that extended beyond the course, and thus to enhance my overall learning.
-Natalie Gilliom, undergraduate student
NCLC 211: Introduction to Conservation Studies

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