Field trips – do they have a role in a business degree?

By: Judith Piggott, Principal Lecturer for Student Experience, Department of Business and Management, Faculty of Business, Oxford Brookes University

In 2004 I came up with an idea for a module  ‘The Business of Sport and Entertainment’.  The module was a chance for students to use their economics and business theory and to encourage them to actively explore an area of business in which they have an interest, whether film and sports stars, famous sports clubs, theatres or films

One of the key elements was the chance to enhance real world relevance through field trips; a chance for students to go to theatres, film studios, football clubs, Formula 1 sites etc. and meaningfully analyse the performance of such organisations.  Business education remains a popular choice at university, but it is fair to say that it is sometimes criticised for its over simplification of business and its disconnection with reality (Lainema & Nurmi, 2006) and students of business and economics often struggle to apply theoretical subject knowledge to real life settings (Mandl et al., 1994).  Field trips can provide rich, memorable experiences that encourage student engagement with the complex reality of business.  Field trips, of course, are not innovative or new; they have been a weapon in the arsenal of authentic learning and student engagement for many years and there are plenty of businesses to visit.  However, they are more complex when dealing with the large student numbers in most Business Schools (more on this later).

Destinations change every semester as the field trip is linked to an assessment in which students use their business knowledge and creativity to produce an outcome of value to the sporting or theatrical organisation.  For example, for Oxford Playhouse, the students produced a brochure they could give to A level or Diploma students explaining the business side of the theatre including their revenues and costs, their pricing and marketing strategies.  Last semester the brochure’s aim was something for Arsenal FC to give out to those on the stadium tour, explaining Arsenal’s business model.  Wiggins (2006, p.51) suggests that such ‘authentic assessments’ result in a product or presentation that have a meaning or value beyond the classroom, enhance student engagement and learning. It certainly seems to me that the combination of field trip and authentic assessment both appeal to students and provoke their engagement.

Feedback from focus groups and student evaluations demonstrate how much students revel in the field trips and in the realism of the assignments, finding the tasks meaningful, interesting and creative.  The on-site visits to businesses involve intensive discussions with managers and give students a taste of acting as consultants engaged in worthwhile activities.  Like consultants, they operate in teams with specific individual responsibility for elements of the assessed outcome.   Perhaps the most convincing indicator of student satisfaction and engagement is the rapid increase in student registrations for the module. Initially when the level 5 elective ‘The Business of Sport and Entertainment’ was created we anticipated about 40 students. However, in the first year numbers doubled.  Now the module runs in two semesters – 180 students last semester, 230 this semester.

The field trips create a group atmosphere supporting cohort identity and a sense of community in the large business programmes where impersonalisation can be an issue.  Students on a trip have been together on the bus, tackled problems together and met the same interesting people.  They have been somewhere they would not normally go, have listened to someone they would not normally have met.   When we went to the Old Vic Theatre, for example, we not only received cheap tickets to see the play, but David Grindley, the Director, met the students and talked about how the production was put together and the ideas behind it.   In other visits the students have met marketing managers, chief executives, and sometimes the owners of clubs and theatres.  One great friend of the module is Kelvin Thomas, Chairman of Oxford United FC who regularly comes to talk to students on a variety of subjects.  During one of his talks, a student critiqued in detail the marketing of the Club.  At the end of the session Kelvin said “Ok come and help us then.  You have some good ideas, come and work with my team”.  And he did …for the rest of the semester.

One negative is the administration for the trip.  All those going need a ‘Next of Kin’ form. This would be unproblematic except the first list of participants often bears no resemblance to the students who actually go.  Students will continually email, stop you in the corridor to tell you they have changed their mind and so controlling the forms and participant list is really time consuming.  Normally, I have support from a student ‘module assistant’ who helps with the administrative burden. Other issues involve costs and resources.  Coaches cost money and some places charge, so keeping costs down is an ever present issue.  Nowadays with high module numbers, logistic and budget constraints mean it is just not possible to take all the students on the trips.  Assessments have to be carefully orchestrated ensuring that at least one member of each group goes on the trip and communication (videos, photos, notes etc.) is maximised for those who don’t,. The assessed tasks have to reworked every semester to correspond with the field trip and still be explicit, fair and valid for both the holistic group product and the individual components. This takes time and limits what can be set as a task.

Finally, initially I set up many of these visits by “cold calling” but soon realised to arrange a really good visit you need a contact.  Two of the associate tutors on the module have been great in this respect: one set up trips to Eton Dorney Olympic rowing site, Silverstone and Arsenal and another’s contacts took us to Worcester Warriors RFC and arranged for a talk by the CEO of Worcester Festival.  Indeed, staff teaching on the module seem to enjoy the field trips as much, if not more, than the students!

So are field trips worth it? Yes. They provide a unique educational experience which can change your view of the world.  As one student said “I have never been to the theatre before – it’s better than TV, isn’t it”.

References

Lainema, T., & Nurmi, S. (2006) Applying an authentic, dynamic learning environment in real world business, Computers & Education 47, pp. 94–115

Mandl, H., Gruber, H., & Renkl, A. (1994). Knowledge application in complex systems. In S. Vosniadou, E. De Corte,& H. Mandl (Eds.), Technology-based learning environments. Psychological and educational foundations. Berlin: Springer.

Wiggins, G. (2006). Healthier testing made easy: Tests don’t just measure absorption of facts. They teach what we value. Edutopia, 49-51.

 

Thanks to Berry O’Donovan for help and advice.

Posted in Short Article

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