The Natural History Institute at Prescott College recently asked the question: what are the barriers to college-level field courses? In order the answer this question they convened naturalists, university administrators, and strategic thinkers who could identify trouble spots. The list contained the usual suspects lack of funding, waning interest of students who have grown up addicted to technology, ever increasing faculty teaching loads, and the ever-present threat of a lawsuit.
When I surveyed university faculty (n=49), I learned that more than 60% believed that the training, policies, and protocols at their institutions were inadequate to manage the risks they face on field courses. There are no shortcuts to a better risk management system, but there are resources to help you along the way. For example, there are online trainings, webinars, and conferences dedicated to managing risk for outdoor and adventure education programs, which typically take more risks than the academic classes that the faculty I surveyed teach.
The Natural History Institute and Educate Wild! are committed to increasing the number of field opportunities available to kids, college students, university faculty, and everyone in between. Towards this end, I recently collaborated with Tom Fleischner, Saul Weisberg, and Steve Pace to revise and enhance the Prescott College Faculty Field Manual into Saying YES Environmental Field Studies. This open-access document shares the policies and protocols that are typically included in a faculty field manual for academic field courses. While the document is geared towards higher education, you will find that it can be easily modified to suit a wide range of field programs. Of course Educate Wild! would be happy to help you do that – the first half hour consultation is always free.
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