Research Summary

Biology student teachers’ interest and self-efficacy in planning and conducting field trips after participation in a university course

Pre-service course positively influences educators’ interest and self-efficacy in leading field trips

Environmental Education Research
2021

A proven method to increase student engagement and promote learning objectives is to take students out of the traditional classroom setting, and on field trips. Field trips are well suited for environmental education (EE) because educators can bring students into natural settings where there are many direct links between the theory and content taught in EE classrooms and hands-on learning can occur. However, studies have shown educators lack confidence to organize or lead field trips. Pre-service courses focused on field trips could prepare future educators with these skills, but there are few such courses. During summer semesters, the University of Münster, Germany provided a class on planning field trips called ‘Native Habitats.’ The researchers collected quantitative and qualitative data to understand how the pre-service course impacted students’ interest and self-efficacy related to leading field trips.

Field trips are excursions outside of traditional classroom settings, where students learn content or skills relevant to their curriculum. In the context of environmental education, field trips can be especially important for encouraging pro-environmental behaviors, because field trips tend to increase knowledge and motivation. Teachers have reported low confidence in leading field trips because of a perceived lack of safety and resources, the potential to lose control of students outside of the normal rules of a classroom, and discomfort teaching outside. In the Native Habitats course at the University of Münster, students had one lecture and one field trip excursion weekly. Each student, in a group of two, was responsible for teaching one of the weekly lectures and leading a field trip in conjunction with a supervising guest lecturer. The researchers hypothesized that educators would be more likely to incorporate field trips in their teaching if educators possessed high interest and high self-efficacy, here defined as the confidence an individual has in their ability to navigate complex situations.

A total of 50 biology students enrolled in the Native Habitats course during the summer semesters in 2017, 2018, and 2019, including 39 master’s candidates and 11 bachelor’s students. The average age of the students was 25 years old (27 women, 23 men). The researchers gave every student a pretest before the first field trip, and a posttest after the final field trip at the end of the semester. There were 10 questions on the survey to measure interest and self-efficacy. Interest was assessed on a four-point scale, with a high score representing agreement with a statement and low score representing disagreement. Self-efficacy was assessed on a six-point scale with scores representing similar meanings. A follow-up survey to illuminate long-term impacts was emailed to the original 50 students enrolled between 2017-2019, and an additional 14 students who completed the course in 2016. Thirty-three individuals responded, of which 15 were actively teaching and 18 were still studying or had recently graduated. The follow-up survey had the same structure as the pretest and posttest but had additional open-ended questions about what in the course promoted self-efficacy and what was valuable in professional practice. Those who completed the follow-up survey were also invited to participate in semi-structured 20-minute interviews via phone. The interviews lasted about 20 minutes and 13 individuals participated. The data from the quantitative surveys were analyzed with statistical software and compared to the qualitative responses from the open-ended questions and interview responses.

The data from the pretest demonstrated high interest scores even before the Native Habitats course began, but the posttest and follow-up survey showed that those interest scores increased in the short and long-term following the course. The data did not indicate any difference in interest levels between genders. Self-efficacy also increased significantly throughout the course for all participants. Male participants had a higher self-efficacy score in the pretest compared to females, and females had a more dramatic increase in self-efficacy between pre- and posttests. In the posttest and the follow-up survey, the gendered difference between self-efficacy scores disappeared. The data also showed that interest scores in the pretest and posttest were linked to self-efficacy scores in the posttest, meaning that student interest impacted the level of student self-efficacy. In the qualitative responses, participants identified the combination of theory and practice as a key value-add from the course. Another trend was that the experience of leading an excursion helped many students feel confident that they could successfully lead a field trip. When asked about the gendered differences between self-efficacy scores in interviews, participants discussed how women sometimes underestimate their capacity and worry more about how things could go wrong during the excursions. Students also reported using the materials developed throughout the course in future excursions that they have organized or plan to organize.

This paper had a few limitations. The follow-up survey was voluntary, so respondents were likely more interested in the field trip course than the average student. This may have skewed the data towards demonstrating a higher lasting impact. The self-efficacy scores were also self-reported and not based on observation, meaning that the students’ actual competencies may be different than their perceived self-efficacy. The authors also acknowledged that there are many factors other than interest and self-efficacy that characterize a successful education course and determine whether educators implement field trips.

Due to the clear increase in interest and self-efficacy throughout the course, the researchers recommended implementing more educational courses focused on attending and leading field trips for pre-service educators. Especially due to the significant increases in self-efficacy during all years of the program both in the near- and long-term, the Native Habitats course structure should be replicated in other pre-service curriculum. The authors highlighted how the experience of successfully leading a field trip may be especially important for female educators, as their pretest self-efficacy scores were lower than males, but posttest and follow-up survey scores were the same across both genders.

The Bottom Line

Employing field trips, or excursions outside of traditional classroom settings, is a proven strategy to increase student engagement in learning and promote learning objectives. However, many educators lack confidence in organizing field trips. The University of Münster in Germany is one of few organizations that offered a pre-service course focused on preparing educators to lead field trips. Researchers collected quantitative and qualitative data on how the course impacted the interest level and self-efficacy of students surrounding field trips. The data showed an increase in interest and a dramatic increase in self-efficacy throughout the course, leading the researchers to suggest implementing similar programs for pre-service educators more widely. Specifically, the authors recommended giving students the experience of successfully leading a field trip and suggested that it is especially important for women educators, who had lower self-efficacy scores before the course in comparison to men.