Michael Michie
Northern Territory Department of Education
GPO Box 4821

This paper was published recently and the details are:

Michie, M. (1998). Factors influencing secondary science teachers to organise and conduct field trips. Australian Science Teacher's Journal, 44(4), 43-50.


A series of interviews with 28 secondary science teachers was used to determine the influences on those teachers to take field trips. The interviews were evaluated using an interpretivist methodology and indicate a range of influences. Science teachers are in general willing to use field trips as part of their pedagogy because they feel that their students need hands-on, real life experiences or to examine applications of science which augment their classroom studies. Other influences that are identified and evaluated relate primarily to the teaching/learning outcomes, the support of members of the school community and the factors that facilitate or hinder teachers taking field trips. The influence of teachers' past experiences is also evaluated. There are a number of implications for schools. Teachers feel constrained by administrative procedures but this needs to be balanced against consideration of the legal implications of 'duty of care'. Student behaviour needs to be balanced by accessibility to a range of teaching/learning strategies. And, as more venues come on line, there is a need for appropriate professional development and curriculum support materials.

Field trips can be considered as one of the three avenues through which science can be taught - through formal classroom teaching, practical work and field trips. In America teachers tend to use the term 'field trip' rather than 'excursion', so the literature, because of its predominantly American origin, uses the former. There have been few attempts to define field trips in the literature. The definition used in this research is taken from Krepel and Duvall (1981): "a trip arranged by the school and undertaken for educational purposes, in which the students go to places where the materials of instruction may be observed and studied directly in their functional setting: for example, a trip to a factory, a city waterworks, a library, a museum etc." (p. 7). They give "instructional trip, school excursion and school journey" as synonyms. The use of the term 'field work' emphasises some of the formal exercises which are done outside of the classroom, usually in biology and geology at senior high school and tertiary levels. These activities may be considered to be a subset of field trips or excursions.

The literature concerning field trips tends to be organised around a number of themes, not all of which are directly appropriate to this study. Much of the literature originates from museums and science centres, with less from other venues such as zoos, aquariums, planetariums and field study or nature centres (see reviews such as Falk & Dierking, 1992; Ramey-Gassert, Walberg & Walberg, 1994; Rennie & McClafferty, 1995, 1996). It often describes a range of effects on visitors, rather than students per se, infrequently examining such visits from a teacher¼s perspective or in relation to the teaching-learning outcomes. Most of the literature relating to school field trips reports studies of student achievement or attitudes, carried out using quantitative methods (e.g., Delaney, 1967; Finson & Enochs, 1987; Flexer & Borun, 1984; Lehman & Lehman, 1984; Mackenzie & White, 1982; Mallon & Bruce, 1982; Orion & Hofstein, 1991, 1994; Stronck, 1983; Wright, 1980).

Much of what has been written about teachers conducting field trips has been anecdotal. Sorrentino and Bell (1970) reviewed texts and research articles by science educators, summarising their reasons for taking field trips into five 'attributed values': providing first-hand experience, stimulating interest and motivation in science, giving meaning to learning and interrelationships, observation and perception skills, and personal (social) development. Quantitative studies of the attitudes of teachers towards field trips were undertaken by Falk and Balling (1979), Fido and Gayford (1982) and Muse, Chiarelott and Davidman (1982). The researchers found that, in the opinion of teachers, the positive benefits derived from field trips were

  • hands-on, real world experiences
  • quality of education, positive attitudes to science and motivation towards the subject
  • improvement of the socialisation between students, which would impinge on the classroom, and development of rapport between teachers and students
  • enabling teachers to utilise other learning strategies such as cooperative learning.

    Negative attitudes of teachers revealed by the research related to a number of factors, some of which are interrelated:

  • difficulties with transportation, including cost (Falk & Balling, 1979; Muse et al., 1982; Orion, 1993; Price & Hein, 1991)
  • teachers' skills, the disparity between theory and practice and a perceived teacher inertia (Beasley, Butler & Satterthwait, 1993; Falk & Balling, 1979; Orion, 1993; Tamir & Zoor, 1977)
  • time considerations - preparation, fitting into the school timetable (Beasley et al., 1993; Muse et al., 1982; Orion, 1993; Price & Hein, 1991)
  • lack of support from school administrations for field trips (Falk & Balling, 1979; Muse et al., 1982; Orion, 1993; Price & Hein, 1991)
  • curriculum inflexibility (Falk & Balling, 1979; Orion, 1993; Price & Hein, 1991)
  • poor student behaviour and attitudes (Beasley et al., 1993; Muse et al., 1982; Orion, 1993; Price & Hein, 1991)
  • inadequacy of resources and choice of venue (Beasley et al., 1993; Orion, 1993; Price & Hein, 1991).

    Purpose of the Study

    A considerable amount of time and money is consumed by students taking part in field trips in all subjects, so one could take the economic rationalist perspective and ask, "Is it all worthwhile? Are we getting value for money?" On a higher level, if field trips are to survive as a way of teaching science, it is important to understand the influences which act on teachers to take them. The literature identified the major positive outcomes for students attending field trips and some of the negative factors as well, but the degree to which they affect teachers is lost in the statistics. This paper reports a qualitative study which allowed teachers to express a range of opinions regarding the outcomes of conducting field trips, to identify the people who benefit, help or hinder teachers when they organise and conduct field trips, and the factors which influence teachers to conduct them.

    Research Method

    The methodology used in this study was an interpretivist inquiry modified from that advocated by Guba and Lincoln (1989), in which there are two phases of data collection through interview.

    1. In the initial phase an open-ended salient beliefs questionnaire (Crawley & Koballa, 1994) was used rather than an initial interview phase. Salient beliefs are assessed in three categories - personal consequences (outcomes), social support and self-efficiency (factors for and against). For a particular target behaviour (in this case 'taking field trips' was the focus issue) the salient beliefs were be identified by means of an open-ended questionnaire constructed around nine simple questions relating to positive, negative and other aspects of each of the three categories.

    The salient beliefs questionnaire was constructed and distributed to a group of ten experienced secondary science teachers. These teachers were selected by the investigator to represent a balance by sex and a range of science subjects taught, type of school (government and independent, junior and senior secondary) and locations throughout the Northern Territory. Crawley and Koballa (1994) advocate the use of salient beliefs to help investigators in developing questionnaires; in this research they were used to develop questions for interviews in the second phase. The results of this phase are not detailed here but are discussed in Michie (1996).

    2. The second phase was to engage in open-ended, face-to-face interviews, held with 25 secondary science teachers from schools in Darwin; 17 were classroom teachers, six were science senior teachers and two were assistant principals. Three other respondents were departmental education officers from a field study centre, a science centre and a wildlife park (zoo), also located in or near Darwin. All respondents were trained science teachers. Sixteen were male and twelve were female. Their experience in teaching ranged between 2 and 35 years and there was a group of twelve with experience in the 8-13 years range. The teachers came from eight high schools, of which two were independent schools and the remainder were government schools. The interviews were all conducted by the researcher, himself a trained science teacher with 26 years teaching experience, including seven years managing a field study centre.

    The interview schedule was prepared initially as a result of the analysis of the salient beliefs questionnaire, with the input of preceding respondents being open to discussion by subsequent ones. It changed as the interviews progressed and eventually consisted of questions across the five areas of interest: field trips, outcomes, social support, factors and past experiences. In terms of the dialectic circle of Guba and Lincoln (1989), there was some input of previous responses into the procedure but it was not possible to revisit any of the initial respondents.

    Each interview was voluntary and lasted approximately half an hour; it was tape recorded with permission and later transcribed. The interviews followed a basic format but in some cases there was further probing into particular areas, usually because of the flow of the interview, but also because of the particular administrative role of the teacher (e.g., senior teacher, assistant principal). Trends from the interviews were collated to represent a spectrum of opinions (Michie, 1997), some of which are included here.

    Results and Discussion

    The results and subsequent discussion are organised into the five areas of interest and then by the questions asked of the teachers.

    The nature and purpose of field trips
    Q. How does your definition of a field trip or excursion fit with the definition I am using?
    Each interview began with the teacher evaluating the definition of field trips from Krepel and Duvall (1981) in an attempt to start from common ground. All of the teachers agreed with the definition, although some of them expanded on the meanings of terms such as 'journey', 'auspices' and 'educational purposes'. The term,'arranged by the school', was contested by some teachers who felt more responsibility for arranging the field trips. For example, one said

    "I might say, arranged by the school and organised by the teacher".

    Q. Do you take field trips? Why?
    All the respondents took or had taken field trips. They believed that the main purpose of taking field trips was to give students hands-on, real life experiences which they would not be able to have in the classroom or the laboratory. Teachers perceived that these kinds of activities enhance students' understanding of the processes involved and also improve students¼ attitudes towards science and in the classroom as well. Similar outcomes have been described in Sorrentino and Bell (1970), Falk and Balling (1979), Fido and Gayford (1982) and Muse et al. (1982). Some teachers also saw that taking field trips was an effective pedagogy which they wanted to use both more frequently and effectively. Many of the teachers felt that as they had become experienced as teachers, they felt more capable of using a wider range of both formal and informal teaching strategies.

    Q. What kinds of places would you visit?
    The places teachers visited for field trips in and around Darwin were a microcosm of those visited elsewhere in the world. There were examples of the major informal venues which are considered in the literature - museums, science centres, aquariums, zoos and field centres, as well as many habitats and industrial sites. An exception was in the area of manufacturing, although there are several mines with processing plants within reach. An added benefit for Darwin was that the climate and the small population base facilitated access to these facilities virtually year-round.

    Student outcomes from field trips
    Q. How important do you consider field trips in achieving the outcomes of the courses you teach? How do you ensure that they are included in your teaching program? How do you ensure that the outcomes are achieved? What impact do field trips have on other aspects such as students¼ attitudes, motivation and rapport?
    There was some variation in the understanding of the teachers about the usefulness of field trips. Most realised the cognitive outcomes of taking them and many also saw their affective values.

    "So the children can experience first hand what they are being taught in the classä so that it¼s real for them."
    "My emphasis when I talk about excursions is getting kids out in the real world, real world situations than just lifelike that they can do in their classrooms."
    "One is to add a bit of variety. Second, it can be motivating for student sometimes. Thirdly, sometimes it¼s the best way to do things in terms of the content."

    There is an extensive literature which supports using field trips for achievement of learning outcomes in a variety of venues. The literature also supports the affective changes caused by field trips, mainly to attitudes. However, Beasley et al. (1993) found that there was a difference between teacher perception of the value of taking field trips and actually taking them, and the attitudes of the Darwin teachers reflected those of their Queensland colleagues. On the other hand the Darwin teachers saw themselves mainly as active participants in the field trips, interacting with the students and not reflecting some of the practices observed by Griffin & Symington (1997).

    It has been suggested in the literature (e.g. Griffin, 1994, 1996; Griffin & Symington, 1997; Price & Hein, 1991; Rennie & McClafferty, 1995) that field trips should be integrated into the teaching program. In planning their field trips, most of the teachers included them in their teaching programs. Apart from administrative requirements, this meant that planning started well ahead and the outcomes of the field trip could be integrated with those of the teaching programs.

    "I've done some spur of the moment (within a few days) excursions myself and they¼ve been really successful, but I think they should be planned well. Weeks at least."
    "I make sure when I write my program I make room for the field trips. You know ahead of time what field trips to include in the program. They're (included) at the inception of the program."

    It has also been suggested in the literature that teachers need to use strategies which reflect informal teaching methods (Griffin, 1994; Griffin & Symington, 1997; Price & Hein, 1991) rather than use formal classroom methods which are the focus of their training. Worksheets are often perceived as being 'busy work', displacing the focus of the field trip to the worksheet itself (Griffin, 1994; McManus, 1985; Michie 1995; Price & Hein, 1991). Some teachers considered that their ability to conduct effective field trips had improved as they matured in their teaching practice (see below). Perhaps as a consequence of using practical work as part of their pedagogy, science teachers are able to use informal methods more easily. Although little comment was made about the actual teaching process while on a field trip, most teachers seemed to be able to adapt their teaching to involve students in small groups but much of it was worksheet-driven.

    "They've either got a worksheet to fill out or they've got field notebooks ... that must be handed in at the end of each field trip."
    "Usually by preparing some kind of set of focus questions or a worksheet of some kind for the students to complete either during or after the trip."

    Although strategies such as those advocated by Rennie and McClafferty (1995) recommend follow-up work from field trips, it provoked little comment. Griffin (1994) found that it was often restricted to collecting and marking worksheets. A number of the teachers had devised strategies to relate the field trip to the overall outcomes of the students' courses and ensured that students knew that there would be ongoing work.

    "I have often used excursions as the basis of oral communication. ... I find that's a really effective way to make sure that a student on a field trip is getting the information that they need."
    "Whatever follow-up there is afterwards, whether it might be for the kids to hand something in or it might be involved in a discussion in class, it might be a jumping-off point for something else we're going to do in the class."

    Assessment and evaluation of the outcomes were provided for where the teachers suggested that they would use worksheets, focus questions and similar techniques to focus on the learning from the field trip. It was then necessary to integrate that learning with the whole unit by using various follow-up or jumping-off strategies. Although some teachers would use the worksheets as an assessment tool, it is preferable to establish links between the field trip and the unit of work prior to assessment. It has been suggested that the value of worksheets is enhanced when they are used as a focus on subsequent work (e.g., writing reports, Michie, 1994).

    Support in the school community
    The questions in this area related to the reactions of people primarily from the school community who are involved in field trips, particularly the students.

    Q. How do you find your students react to going on a field trip?
    The teachers considered that students benefited from going on field trips and that most of the students wanted to go on field trips. In a few cases teachers felt that this was because students saw them as free, out-of-class time. Perhaps the students' casual comment, "getting out of school", should be interpreted as "getting a day off from the normal school routine" (Falk & Dierking, 1992, p. 30). Again it is the responsibility of the teacher to inform the students of the purpose of the field trip. Students surveyed by Tamir and Zoor (1977) rated field trips as highly important. Falk and Dierking (1992) considered that students attending a field trip had two agendas, one of which was child-centred and the other similar to that of the school and venue. Both of these agendas can be manipulated prior to the field trip by orientation of the students, reducing the novelty factor and at the same time improving learning (Kubota & Olstad, 1991; Orion & Hofstein, 1994; Burnett, Lucas & Dooley, 1996; Anderson & Lucas, 1997).

    Most of the teachers felt that students' behaviour improved when they were on field trips and that improvements could continue afterwards into classroom relationships.

    "... the idea with the ... excursions, what I found that because the focus was different each time we went down, by the third time a lot of the inappropriate behaviour was gone and so they stayed focused a lot longer. In terms of wanting to get the kids more productive ... on excursions, you¼d have to give them more of them. If the support was there for those excursions to be well structured and well focused and organised so that the kids could see the purpose of it very clearly, I can't see any reason that a good excursion habit wouldn't develop."

    Preparation appears to be a major factor in keeping students on task. Orion and Hofstein (1994) concluded from their research that those students who had least preparation for the field trip, "demonstrated poor learning performance in each of the learning stations" (p. 1109) and "the teacher-student relationships were hostile" (p. 1110), whereas those students who were adequately prepared demonstrated negligible off-task behaviour.

    Q. Are there any particular groups of students you will or will not take on field trips? What are the characteristics of these groups?
    Prior misbehaviour by students in class or in the school in general was also considered as a likely reason for not taking students on field trips. Teachers felt that they may not be able to maintain control of their students outside of the classroom, particularly without assistance, and that this would be exacerbated in junior secondary classes with larger numbers of students.

    "You'd be reluctant to take them on an excursion and that happens quite often around here where particular kids are left behind because of their previous behaviour on excursions or ... around school."
    "They tend to be lower level students, not academically lower but behaviour-wise. You just couldn't trust them, the behaviour in class was just to the point where you'd think, 'There's no way that I'm physically going to be able to control a group of 30 students, all of whom have behavioural problems, by myself or even with another teacher'."

    Other teachers felt that their students demonstrated poor attitudes to school work and they (the teachers) could see no reason to go out of their way to organise a field trip. In some of the early research by Falk and Balling (1979) behaviour was not seen as a major issue. Fido and Gayford (1982) also discounted behaviour as a negative factor but they were considering only senior secondary students (O and A levels). However, Muse et al. (1982) reported that 'students' were identified as a factor for not taking field trips by 22% of the secondary teachers.

    Q. How do other members of the school community react to your taking field trips?
    The relationship between teachers taking field trips and other teachers in the school seems to involve some antagonism. The two causes identified for this were that teachers took students away from the other teachers' classes, and the absent teachers relied on their peers to cover relief lessons for them. Many teachers felt that although generally the other teachers in the school did not complain, some individuals did. It was felt that these would normally be outside the science faculty and that the main complaint would be about students losing class time for the other subject area. Most considered that other teachers from the science faculty were supportive and often acted as resource people.

    The legal responsibility of the school administration in permitting field trips appeared to be poorly understood by some teachers, although there may have been cases of excessive zeal by schools in implementing the departmental regulations (e.g., demanding six week notice for all field trips, when the regulations require only four weeks and then only for overnight trips). Other factors which school administrations are responsible for, the provision of transport (and, perhaps, money from their budget) and the allocation of relief lessons to other members of staff, are discussed below.

    Teachers' perceptions about the role of other members of the school community were quite varied. Some groups, particularly parents and the ancillary staff (including laboratory technicians), were marginalised by many of the teachers. Parents were often seen simply as suppliers of money and permission. Ancillary staff in schools are often involved in ordering buses for field trips, ensuring that school buses are appropriately equipped and in preparing equipment for any activities.

    Factors affecting whether teachers take field trips
    Q. I want to move onto the factors which you think make it easier or would make it easier, and the ones which make it difficult for you to take field trips. Would you like to comment on how you find any factors make it either easier or obstruct you in taking field trips?
    Administrative procedures were probably seen as neutral factors, tending towards the obstructive side. Teachers understood that they had a necessary legal obligation to ensure the safety of their students ('duty of care') and the administrative procedures should reflect that. The safety and legal issues for teachers were also perceived as neutral and it was up to individual teachers how they respond to them. Some teachers spoke about their lack of first aid knowledge, trusting that they wouldn¼t have any major accidents. Weather also appeared to be neutral as most schools made allowances in their programming to run weather-susceptible units at more appropriate times.

    Transportation, money and large class sizes all tend to be related, negative factors. A teacher's dream appeared to be provision of an school bus, large enough to seat all students at no cost. Class sizes in junior secondary science were generally greater than the size of the group that could be transported with a small bus (e.g. Coaster-style buses seat about 20 students whereas many classes are 30+). Bigger buses are not only more expensive to buy and maintain, they also require different licensing arrangements. Schools often have to hire outside buses but this often creates financial problems; it can also produce a numbers problem as schools double up classes to reduce costs. Collecting money from students was seen as a hassle, a view often put with industrial or professional implications.

    "They (the students) don't want to pay you, they think the school owes them an excursion or three. It's a bit of a drama having them deliver the money and dragging it out of them can be a chore sometimes. ... The money to get into venues tends not to be too much of a hassle..."

    Teachers were also concerned that the larger numbers on a field trip made safety an issue.

    A related aspect that teachers saw was the demand by school administrators for teachers to obtain their licenses but not all schools supported them to do so. Most schools allowed their buses to be used in training but they did not provide any financial incentives in obtaining the license. One assistant principal spoke out against teachers who would not obtain licenses and so depended on other teachers or ancillary staff to do the driving. However some teachers felt that they did not have the skills to drive the bus or were concerned about onboard discipline if they were driving.

    Timetable inflexibility was also seen as negative; teachers were willing to use double lessons but felt less inspired to extend trips over longer periods of time, thus incurring the wrath of their peers for taking students out of their classes and/or generating relief lessons. One school timetabled double lessons first thing in the morning but many field trip venues didn¼t open until later in the morning, and field trips to places depending on variables such as optimal tides could not be scheduled anyway.

    Time and effort on the part of the teacher were often seen as negative factors. Time is required for all planning in teaching but field trips can be even more demanding. Often venues have to be visited or resource people contacted. Resource materials and relief lessons may need to be prepared. Extended field trips use up teachers' out-of-school time. Overcoming the 'general inertia' to do all this was seen as a hurdle by Falk and Balling (1979), Tamir and Zoor (1977) and Price and Hein (1991). Yet some teachers continue to take field trips so that there must be satisfaction in the effort made.

    Q. What kinds of changes would you like to see that would make taking field trips easier? How you think that professional development (inservicing) would influence the way you take field trips? How have you involved outside professionals in your field trips?
    Most of the teachers felt that the availability of resources and resource people was a factor which would make it easy for them to undertake field trips. Many teachers become self-sufficient in preparing for their own field trips, although some do not.

    "Sometimes I think that resources prepared by other people looks at aspects you mightn¼t have thought of yourself."
    "I feel that when a field trip venue ... has put the effort into putting their resources into hard copy form or brochures, pamphlets or even preferentially worksheets, then you¼re more inclined to go there."
    "I remember the old days when I had scant information... This was like a massive exercise to get anything and to validate what you thought you knew."
    "I've been on a few inservices aimed specifically at showing teachers what's available as far as excursions go. (Science teachers association) has organised a couple of these... and I found them really valuable. ... It also gave me a real picture of what¼s available around Darwin."
    "I've used the person from ..., to help with the tides, to help with the preparation for the field trip, when I didn't know the area at all to show us where to go, how to name plants, things like that."

    The area of teacher professional development and the preparation of resources, particularly where teachers and resource people worked cooperatively, has been mentioned in the literature by Price and Hein (1991) and Chase (1989). Similarly the advice to teachers about visiting venues beforehand is still relevant and occurs throughout the literature (e.g., Rennie & McClafferty, 1995).

    Significance of past experiences
    Q. I am interested in your past experiences and how they may shape your attitudes to field trips. What kinds of things do you think most influence you?
    Teachers' recollections of their own school field trips tended to be more extensive with younger teachers, with few of the older teachers indicating any field trips while attending school. This is not a memory problem but reflects the increasing popularity of field trips in schools from about the mid- to late-sixties.

    For many teachers, their first field trips were at university or teachers college and this depended on the discipline being studied, with biological and geological sciences tending to have more field trips than any of the other sciences. For many teachers the main factor which affected their willingness to take field trips appeared to be their successful experiences, primarily as teachers but also as students, and learning the value of using other venues for their teaching.

    The literature from museums (e.g., Wolins, Jensen and Ulzheimer, 1992) showed that good experiences encouraged people to continue using those facilities. There seems to be a parallel argument here, that teachers who have experienced good field trips as part of their teaching will continue to organise and take them; this situation was also apparent to Price and Hein (1991). On the other hand, some museum visitor research indicates that poor field trips to these venues had the effect of creating museum non-users (Hood, 1992); most teachers would be unaware of these long-term consequences.

    Implications for Teaching

    The teachers who were interviewed in this study all undertook field trips and there was general agreement that field trips were valuable for students' cognitive and affective development. It is important that schools recognise this and support teachers' use of these opportunities to facilitate achievement of learning outcomes.

    However the enthusiasm of the teachers for field trips varied from highly enthusiastic to disillusioned. A major factor expressed for this disillusion was the perception of school administrations as discouraging field trips. These teachers felt discouraged because they felt the administrative procedures within the school were burdensome and designed to thwart teachers taking field trips. They also felt that there were hassles with having to get appropriate-sized buses (usually commercially), the cost of field trips and having to get money from their students.

    These issues need to be addressed by schools. Administrative procedures should reflect departmental requirements, yet provide both legal and professional support for the teacher. The wider issue of 'duty of care' needs to be better articulated between teachers and schools. The provision of transport for field trips and their funding have to be seen as part of the school¼s overall finances and procedures.

    Student misbehaviour was also seen as a discouraging factor for some teachers but others saw that taking field trips affected student learning and their attitudes, both towards the subject and personally, and enhanced their behaviour. Some students (particularly in Darwin) go on many field trips, so it is important that teachers understand the need to establish the purpose of the trip beforehand. Teachers also need to realise that there are longer-term implications of taking field trips.

    Teachers felt that there were many venues they could visit but they did not have the time to prepare teaching materials for them. Professional development, particularly the type that brings teachers face-to-face with local experts, is an important way of developing their confidence, especially if it leads to the development of resources for other teachers. Schools can facilitate this process by promoting the attendance of teachers at these sessions.


    I would like to thank LÈonie Rennie and Terry McClafferty of Curtin University of Technology for their suggested changes to the manuscript, as well as the input of the anonymous reviewers.


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