Field Education and External Projects



Field studies include any required activity designed to extend the educational experience beyond classroom, lab or studio and is coordinated, supervised, and conducted entirely with GVSU faculty, staff or students. Does not include placement with an external entity. These may be conducted individually or in a group. Examples include:

  • Creative Activity, Performance  Includes art shows, musical, theater or dance performances which often involves students working in off-campus community theaters or studios.
  • Field Trip  Includes any off-campus or on-campus group learning activity led by a faculty or staff member who travels with the group.
  • Service Learning  Often community-service based projects accompanied by instruction or reflection to enhance the learning experience. May include work inside or outside the campus community in areas such as education, public safety, charitable work or the environment. This does not include learning activities such as internships where a student acts in an established role within an outside organization (see Internships).

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Identifying Risks

There are different kinds of risk associated with activity of this type. These can include:

  • Physical or emotional harm to the student
  • Reputational risk to the University
  • Damage to University property
  • Damage to student property
  • Damage to property of others

Conduct a thorough assessment of potential risks before embarking upon activity outside the classroom. Discuss your questions and concerns with your community agency partners and campus colleagues. A risk assessment will identify the worst things that could happen as a result of the activity. Consult the GVSU Guide to Field Safety for more information.

Examples of Risks in Field Studies

  • Physical hazards: Unsafe situations that can cause injury or illness to the student or others
  • Environmental hazards: High or low temperatures, high elevation, dangerous animal, drowning
  • Equipment hazards: Moving parts, electrical currents, flying particles, heavy objects
  • Chemical hazards: Use of hazardous materials such as toxic, flammable or corrosive chemicals
  • Ergonomic injuries: Stress or strain from excessive physical activity or repetitive motion
  • Biological hazards: Exposure to biological agents or disease, or disease carrying animals
  • Personal Safety: Working with populations or in areas that are more prone to criminal activity.
  • Transportation: Car accidents, vehicle damage, stranding  see transportation
  • Intellectual Data: analysis inaccuracies may lead to malpractice or malfeasance claims
  • Financial: Accidents or injuries may expose students to excessive medical or rescue costs.
  • Reputational: Student misconduct reflect poorly upon the faculty or University
  • Emotional: Exposure to disturbing situations that may cause lasting emotional harm.

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Managing Risks

Once the potential hazards have been identified, steps should be taken to implement measures to address its risks in an organized fashion. GVSU has a checklist available to help plan for field work and external projects. Managing risks requires a commitment from both the faculty and students in order to be effective. Steps that may help to ensure a safe experience include

  • Site visits: If possible visit these settings or organizations prior to the visit to gain first-hand knowledge of the situations in which they are serving and learning. After the activity meet with all involved to discuss the experience from the risk management and liability standpoints for future activity
  • Supervision: Determine the level of supervision necessary during the activity.
  • Training and Orientation:  Safety and liability issues should be covered in an orientation for participating students. This can be conducted either by the faculty or by outside partners, or both. Spend time orienting and training students in safety procedures, potential dangers, and the risk management policies of the University and the destination site. It can be helpful to involve students who have previously completed the service-learning experience as speakers during the orientation. Orientation should include a summary handout or handbook with checklists, appropriate forms, and emergency contact information.
  • Communication:  Especially for ongoing independent activities, clear lines of communication are vital to reducing risks. Frequent communication between students, faculty and outside partners should help to identify any issues or concerns and to address them early in the process.
  • Transportation:  visit the Risk Reduction sections on transportation

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Policies and Procedures

Standard GVSU Policies

  • Faculty, staff and students must comply with University policies while involved in activities off-campus, just as they would on campus.
  • The instructional activities and setting during class time shall conform with institutional policies of the university including those which pertain to alcohol and drug use, vehicle use, student misconduct, smoking, principles of academic freedom, policy on sexual harassment and discrimination.
  • University policies, including the Student Code of Conduct are to be enforced during off-campus activities.

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Standard Procedures:

Be sure to follow established department procedures, which may include filing an off-campus activity plan. In addition, the following items are required of everyone who incorporates field trips as a course component, or who is arranging for a co- or extracurricular activity off-campus.

  • If for a course: State in the syllabus that there is an outside-the-classroom activity. If there is off-campus travel involved state that also. (In some circumstances it may be appropriate to provide an alternative to the service-learning component.) If not for a course: Have each student complete an informational contract (note - not a waiver of legal liability).
  • Identify any special requirements for participation in the activity:  Consider special skills, fitness certification, as well as any hazards or dangers that might affect the health and safety of the participants. If requirements to engage in the activity are not in addition to normal class requirements then no additional precautions need be delineated in the syllabus or student contract of participation.
  • Ask students to advise you of any special disabilities, problems or needs that may need to be accommodated.
  • Define the scope of the project and the level of student involvement in the project. Make certain students know contact persons if they have questions or concerns.
  • Use Faculty Safety Checklist , Field Experience Safety Plan form , and waivers to ensure that information is properly communicated
  • Participants under 18 years old need to have permission from a parent or guardian.
  • Determine level of training and orientation necessary and have proof that all appropriate training has been conducted.

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Procedures for High Risk Activities

The following items are required of activities and projects that pose a physical, emotional, or intellectual risk to the student or university beyond what is typical of the classroom setting.

  • The Liability Release, Waiver, Discharge and Agreement Not to Sue form must be completed by every participant prior to the activity, and deposited with the department. This form is to be maintained by the department of the faculty/staff employee for a period of four years.
  • Develop a plan for emergencies such as theft, illness, vehicle emergency, weather delays, student misconduct or threats to the safety of the student or others, should be completed. This plan should include telephone numbers of supervisors and other appropriate contact personnel (such as police, fire, etc.).
  • Obtain signed parental permission forms for any minor students (under 18 years of age) participating.
  • Bring along a first aid kit and have someone in the group familiar with first aid and/or CPR.
  • Consider any special clothing or equipment that may be needed because of weather or other conditions.

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