Date of Award


Level of Access

Open-Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)




Gordon Donaldson

Second Committee Member

Richard Barnes

Third Committee Member

Nancy Jennings


Progressive educators have long criticized many traditional teaching methods at the secondary level as intellectually stultifying and irrelevant. The current wave of progressive secondary school reform, including in Maine, seeks to improve learning for all students by actively engaging them in the learning experience. The focus, however, is primarily on classroom practices, with little written about the potential importance to academic study of one practice - field-based learning - which has an established record for engaging students actively in learning. The reasons for this omission are varied, including a lack of understanding of field-based learning at the secondary level. This comparative case study examined the experiences of nine high school seniors at the Waynflete School in Portland, Maine, completing an interdisciplinary field-based course in anthropology and geography. The goal of this study was to determine the effect of direct experience in the field on how students learned about the topics they studied and about themselves. Data were gathered through student and teacher interviews and analysis of course and student produced materials. The study found that the depth of immersion in the field was closely related to the number of insights generated into the topic but not necessarily themselves. It also found that depth of immersion was closely related to depth of understanding. Understandings, however, were markedly enhanced when students combined an adequate experience in field with strong academic processes. Key academic processes included the development and use of a central question, the use of secondary sources, reflectiveness, and analysis and paper writing. In addition, two modes of academic processing, deductive and inductive, were identified. Students arrived at their deepest understandings when the two modes of processing were combined. By examining the experiences of students participating in an academic class, this study provides educators a useful perspective on this potentially important but seldom used pedagogy. It also M e r defines what is meant by "deep understanding," which many scholars identified as one of the primary goals of a secondary education. In doing so, this study makes a contribution to the literature on educational reform by linking it with knowledge about insight development.

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