Just Steps Away

Posted: June 9, 2015 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

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Students love double-sided handouts!

Field trips transform an ordinary school day into an adventure. I’ve always adored field trips, even more so now that I get to select when and where we’ll go. At this point in my career, I’d be in favor of a field trip every other class, but relying on students to show up to class is a tough enough, let alone asking them to find their way somewhere else. As savvy and self-assured as college students pretend to be, most of them have no idea how to transverse this city, which only makes field trips more necessary. Although I am limited in my (happily flaneur-esque) wanderings with my students to a rather small walkable circumference of the downtown RMU campus, there is plenty to see and do that meaningfully enriches their studies.

I favor a walking tour, accompanied by a demanding handout with question after question to guide their experience. Lest these excursions sound too prescriptive, I do ask students to create their own questions, and occasionally allow students to make the entire assignment. I am not surprised by the enormous differences between my assignment (a double-sided page of probing questions) and that assigned by students: go to the place and take a selfie. The perspectives of an instructor and a young college student are often separated by a wide chasm. Indeed, many 18-to-20 year-olds are just beginning to gain experiences of any sort. They are still invested in the visit, not necessarily concerned about doing something worthwhile once there. Here I am reminded of a friend’s regret that when he visited Ireland after freshman year of college, his 19-year-old self spent the entire trip drinking in the pubs. He had been to Ireland and essentially seen little of the country. I am certainly not one to underestimate the importance of pub culture, but there is a bit more to Ireland than a pint of Guinness, including the one they pour in the scenic bar at top of the terrific Guinness museum!

Field trips are made more necessary by the continual infiltration of technology in the classroom. At least while walking to a new destination, my students must look up to find me in the crowd. Sometimes it seems as though the entire population needs to be encouraged to look up! I walk much more briskly than they do, on purpose. A teacher ought to push students to keep up, in any way possible.

Lurie GardenMy most recent field trip involved visits to gardens along Michigan Avenue as part of a “Parks, Gardens, and Green Spaces” topic for the English 325: “Writing for the Community” course I’m currently teaching. These gorgeous spaces are a living embodiment of Chicago’s motto “Urbs in Horto” (City in a Garden), another new “fun fact” to share with my students.   Stops included The Lurie Garden, created in 2004 by Gustafson Guthrie Nichol design team, The North Garden at the Art Institute, designed by Laurie Olin and opened circa 1980, and the South Garden of the Art Institute, created by Dan Kiley and opened in 1962. These three gardens, all in close proximity of RMU campus, offer unique places to reconnect with nature in the heart of the city. These trips augment the assigned reading “Great Cities, Great Parks,” by Douglas Vaira in which he ranks Chicago’s Millennium Park as one of the country’s “Best Destination Parks,” but just steps away from RMU!

CalderinNorthThe students immediately express a preference to one of the spaces. My favorite moment from yesterday came when one of the students entered the remarkably serene space in the South Garden and said, simply, “Wow.” This place remains my favorite, as it features a bubbling fountain that almost successfully drowns out the sound of the passing traffic on Michigan Avenue. The sunken garden also features a canopy of interlocking tree branches that form a shady ceiling, lighting the garden in dappled green and gold.

After any field trip, students invariably ask where we’ll go next, a mark of resounding success if there ever was one. As higher education continues to espouse the virtues of experience-based education, I’m glad for the opportunity to lead my students out into the wide, wonderful world, encouraging them as they find their way.

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