experiential learning

Engaging students via field trips, near and far

James Hanken, MCZ

James Hanken, Professor of Biology and Director of the Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ), increases student engagement by taking students out of the traditional classroom. Whether organizing his freshman seminar around weekly excursions to Harvard’s museums, or guiding a spring break field trip to Costa Rica for undergraduates enrolled in OEB 167 Herpetology, these immersive experiences “provide opportunities for students to see and understand things they simply won’t get in the classroom.”

The benefits: While Hanken favors the traditional lecture for certain material, field trips expose students to people and ideas unavailable in the classroom setting, like interviewing museum directors about the challenges of curation and exhibit administration. The field exposure in Costa Rica, a trip largely sponsored by the MCZ, gives students an understanding of animals as living organisms, not just static entities—an immersive experience "we are uniquely qualified to offer."

Visualization lab

See examples of research and instructional uses of Harvard’s state-of-the-art immersive 3D stereo Visualization Lab, located within the Peabody Museum.

Course-based field trip grants

The David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies provides grants to faculty who design and lead course-based field trips. 

The Field Method

See Harvard field learning resources at Harvard Business School

Research: Authentic Learning (Simulations, Lab, Field)

An ablConnect literature summary outlines that field learning—an extreme form of authentic learning (versus lab and simulation)—increases student motivation and the ability to think like a member of the discipline. 

‘Real-world’ projects: Balancing student learning and community need

Ann Forsyth headshot

Ann Forsyth, Professor of Urban Planning, incorporates projects with clients into many of her Graduate School of Design courses, from semester-long endeavors to optional assignments. Students gain experience designing sustainable and healthy cities by working with and producing reports for government, educational, and non-profit organizations.

The benefits: While students can learn new perspectives researching a case or scoping a theoretical project, partnering with clients offers a chance to understand political, ethical, and technical dimensions and manage time with real stakes. “Students are required to meet with the community, relate to people, and collect data in that context. It adds a certain ethical commitment.”

Harvard Immigration Project

The Harvard Law School provides students client project opportunities such as the Harvard Immigration Project