A Field Trip to the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre: Maximizing the Learning Experience for Students

Grant recipient: Sherryl Bisgrove, Department of Biological Sciences

Project team: Andrew Wylie, research assistant

Timeframe: January to December 2013

Funding: $5,000

Course addressed: BISC 326 - Biology of Algae and Fungi

Poster presentation: View a poster (PDF) describing this project findings.  The poster is adapted from the 2014 Symposium on Teaching and Learning.

Description: Observing life first-hand lies at the core of the biological sciences. For this reason, forays into the natural world are important, if not essential, components of undergraduate curricula in biology. I team-teach the algal half of a third-year biology course, BISC 326 Biology of Algae and Fungi. Early in the semester, students partake in a field trip to the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre, located on the west coast of Vancouver Island.  Bamfield is world-renowned as a locality with rich ecosystems that contain a diversity of species not found in other places. Here students identify and observe living specimens that they would not otherwise be exposed to. This is meant to give them, in the words of the Nobel Prize–winning scientist Barbara McClintock, “a feeling for the organism” (Keller 1983). This level of understanding is a crucial component of the learning process for many students. At Bamfield, the instructors who guide our activities on the beach, in the woods, and in the lab include scientists from SFU as well as other Canadian universities who are, or have been, engaged in research activities.  This gives students the opportunity to meet and interact with professionals working in this field of study. For many students, the trip is an adventure that provides a unique sense of “becoming a biologist.” Some students have told me that the field trip was a cathartic point in their undergraduate degrees. Comments like these lead me to believe that the field trip has potential to become a far richer experience for the students than I anticipated.  

My ultimate goal is to modify student activities surrounding the trip to increase learning outcomes. I will first assess the range of learning objectives, both realized and potential, associated with the trip. I would also like to know what the students gain from the trip in its current form and which aspects could be improved upon. The knowledge that I gain will be used to design new activities aimed at addressing identified deficiencies. In a future project, changes to the field trip will be implemented and the resulting effects on learning outcomes will be assessed.

Reference: Keller, E.F. (1983). A Feeling For the Organism: The Life and Work of Barbara McClintock. New York, W.H. Freeman and Company.

Questions addressed:

  • What is the full range of learning objectives that students could gain from the field trip?
  • Which learning objectives are actually realized by students from the trip in its current form and which are not?
  • How can the trip and/or student activities be modified to address the deficiencies identified in this study?

Dissemination: My findings will be shared with other SFU Biology Department instructors that include or could include field trips to the Bamfield or similar facilities. Bamfield hosts field trips for students from other universities. I intend to analyze learning outcomes associated with the field trip that I lead with the educational staff at the Bamfield, and the staff are enthusiastically supportive of the idea. Findings will be shared with Bamfield staff and I will encourage them to share my findings with any instructors visiting the centre. I also attend the annual meeting of the Canadian Society of Plant Biologists every year. At this meeting, there are often posters and talks that highlight teaching- or education-related activities conducted by members of the society, and this is one venue in which I could share my findings. I am also considering attending a meeting for professional science educators.

Bisgrove, S., & Wylie, A. (2014, May). A field trip to the Bamfield Marine Sciences Center: Maximizing the learning experience for students. Poster session presented at the Symposium on Teaching and Learning: Provocative Pedagogy, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC.