More than a field trip

Foreign countries have become a classroom
for Columbia College students and professors
Thursday, February 3, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 3:34 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

One of the latest education opportunities at Columbia College allows students to travel to foreign countries with professors who teach courses about the places they visit.

Professors and students have traveled to Puerto Rico, Costa Rica and Ireland and will make an excursion to Greece this year.

The Puerto Rico trip offered one corresponding course, Costa Rica two courses and Ireland three. The Greece trip will result in the offering of nine courses. A class must have at least three students enrolled to be approved.

The study trips began when Graham Higgs, a psychology professor at Columbia College, took nine students to Puerto Rico during the winter intersession of 2000-01. He taught environmental psychology, in which students studied the people of the neighboring island Vieques, whose lives were affected by a nearby bombing range.

“It is not, ‘Well, let’s all go on a trip together,’” Higgs said. “There actually are objectives, and there is rigor.”

Students sign up for a class, receive the syllabus and assignments and take a 10-day field trip. On the trip, students see the sights and learn firsthand about the people, land and culture. Back home, they complete assignments based on the visit, Higgs said.

“It is absolutely the best way to teach because you get to know your students personally and they get to know you as a human being,” he said. “Teachers create the environment for learning. One of the greatest ways to create that environment is to expose students to different cultures.”

The trips are open to non-students as well. People can come along for the trip without taking a course, said Ann Bledsoe, a mathematics professor at Columbia College.

“We have staff, faculty and spouses that go,” she said. “We are inviting anybody — MU students, Stephens students and all of our extended campuses.”

Bledsoe went on last summer’s trip to Ireland and taught a course titled “Mathematic Excursions.” She is coordinating the trip to Greece for this summer. The trip will offer courses in areas including marketing, English, math, sociology, psychology, education, finance and management.

“If you are going on the trip, it is going to be fun, but if you enroll in the courses, you are going to have work to do,” Bledsoe said.

Students who took the math course during the Ireland trip had to apply mathematical teachings and practices to the sights in Ireland. Students did surveys and looked for symmetry in architecture. They had to take photos or buy postcards to document their research for a report about the mathematical topic they chose to study in Ireland, Bledsoe said.

“It became more qualitative study for them instead of quantitative,” she said. “The courses are designed to be aligned with what the trip is going to be.”

Kelly Sharp, a senior studying math and business at Columbia College, traveled with the group to Ireland last summer. She was enrolled in Bledsoe’s math course.

“It helped me to see the city better,” Sharp said. “It was really cool to be able to apply what I learned to what I was seeing.”

One assignment was to find patterns. “At St. Patrick’s Cathedral, I took pictures of the floor because it was a pattern. Everyone was looking at me wondering why I was taking pictures of people’s feet,” Sharp said.

“It made me look at everything differently.”

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