Southampton Solent University Faculty of Business, Sport and Enterprise

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Southampton Solent University

Faculty of Business, Sport and Enterprise

Research and Enterprise Working Paper Series

Working Paper Number VIII

June 2010

Navigating Reflection:
Photography as a learning tool on a cruise field trip
Limited research has been done to date on tourism student’s learning during field trips, despite the value of education in the field being recognised by other academic disciplines such as geography. An educational field trip that immerses students in the subject being studied, in this instance tourism and cruise operations management, can present opportunities for them to apply what has been learnt in the classroom to ‘real life’ situations and enable them to reflect on their learning. This study examines whether photography is a valuable tool in supporting student’s reflective practice during a 7 day cruise field trip around the Eastern Mediterranean in May 2009. The 12 participating students were each given a digital camera and instructed to take an unlimited number of photographs that ‘best represents your learning about cruise studies’. On return to the UK each student selected 5 photographs that held the most meaning for them and were individually interviewed on their choices. The study concludes that reflexive photography linked with elicitation interviews can help evidence learning and encourage students to reflect on their learning.
Keywords: Cruise Field Trip, Learning, Reflection, Photography

Navigating Reflection: Photography as a learning tool on a cruise field trip


In April 2009 2 members of staff and 16 levels undergraduate students undertook a 7 day voyage to the Eastern Mediterranean on the cruise ship Ocean Village II with the aim of providing an experiential learning environment for those studying cruise on the three year BA (Hons) Tourism Management with Cruise and Travel Operations pathway. Fieldtrips have become an integral part of the programmes on offer in the tourism programmes at Southampton Solent University (Power and Burton, 2007) providing learning opportunities for students to actively engage with the subject of tourism outside of the university classroom setting.

Learning and Fieldtrips

Hawkins and Weiss (2004:1) suggest that given the demands of the global economy experiential learning in higher education tourism programmes, in the form of study abroad and the consulting practicum, is an important feature of preparing students for the ‘real world’ of work. Whilst limited research has been undertaken into the impacts of field trips on tourism students (Xie, 2004) the value of education in the field is a recognised in areas such as geography and indeed high achievement by school pupils in this subject has been linked to a high profile of fieldwork in the curriculum (Smith, 1997).

Field trips that involve travel away from home and overnight stays in a tourism environment implicitly involve the participant as both student and tourist at the same time and as such they become part of the phenomenon being studied. One of the issues in educational overseas fieldtrips is ensuring the academic content of the experience and the avoidance of the perception by students (and sometimes colleagues) of it being ‘just a jolly’. The creation of clear aims and objectives on what the field trip intends to achieve from an academic, learning perspective prior to the trip is therefore essential.

Nevertheless, learning on a field trip is not guaranteed it simply provides an environment where students can be encouraged to learn by actively applying their knowledge to the touristic situation in which they find themselves. There is, however, evidence to suggest that the shared interaction between students and lecturers whilst on a field trip can serve as both an academic as well as social motivator and can lead to an increased enjoyment and understanding of the subject being studied (Manner, 1995). The value of fieldtrips is further discussed by MacKenzie and White (1982) who argue that active fieldwork can create memorable episodes which not only enhances learning but improves long-term knowledge retention. The field trip environment can lead to ‘discovery’ as emphasised in Ausubel’s (1968) ‘meaningful’ learning and can lead to the testing of ideas and models previously taught and discussed in the classroom whilst Orion (1993) suggests that it also assist student’s understanding of abstract concepts. Being immersed in the subject area by physically being, in this instance, on a cruise ship, can provide an opportunity to apply learning and can in turn be a basis for student active reflection and analysis.

Active learning implies that the students are themselves actively doing something or participating and engaging in an activity and are thinking about what they are doing (Bonwell and Eison, 1991). It is therefore imperative that whilst on a fieldtrip opportunities are created whereby students can engage with the subject being studied in an active manner that helps them to understand their own learning, and, that the learning environment consists of more that lecturer focussed didactic transmission of information. Field trips often contain interesting and entertaining lectures by practitioners and experts and as such can be inspiring for students. This does not necessarily, however, indicate that learning is taking place for knowledge is an active process requiring the involvement of the learner and it cannot simply be transmitted. The learner must actively process the information. Jarvis, Holdford and Griffen (1998:46) describe experiential learning as the process of ‘creating and transforming experience into knowledge, skills, attitudes, values, emotions, beliefs and senses’. A field trip can provide the experience and the field trip organisers can provide guidance and create space and time, for observation and reflection thus facilitating the process whereby this transformation can take place. As Biggs (2001:75) suggests, ‘Cognitive growth lies not just in knowing more but also in the restructuring that occurs when new knowledge becomes connected with what is already known.’

Reflexive Photography as Reflective Tool

The importance of reflection as part of the learning process is well established (Kolb, 1984, Schon, 1983, Higgs, 1988) and helps the learner to clarify thoughts and gain insights and deepen understanding of information. Schon (1983, 1987) suggests that reflection requires the use of prior knowledge and is the cultivation of the capacity to reflect in action whilst doing something and to reflect after it has been done; focusing on constructing, deconstructing and reconstructing knowledge. There are many ways to encourage reflective practice in students and some of the methods cited by Henderson et al (2004:357) include learning journals/logs, critical incident diaries, fieldwork diaries, action research and collaborative enquiry. Whilst photography does not feature as one of the techniques listed it is a recognised empirical research method (Pink, 2007, Rose, 2007). Images produced by research participants known as ‘reflexive photography’ (Harper, 1988) have been used posits Schulze (2007:537) to ‘stimulate members of a group to critically analyse their own situations’, and, when accompanied by photo-elicitation interviews, can provide ‘insight into the meaning and symbolism inherent in the photographs’ (Harrington and Schibik, 2003:27). Not only can photography act as a useful tool for reflection but as Larsen (2001:241) suggests the link between tourism and photography is such that they are ‘modern twins’, with photography playing a key role in ‘structuring the tourist gaze’ (Urry, 2002:125) and as such the researchers argue it is an apt means by which to record learning in this touristic activity.

According to Keegan (2007:59) ‘the development of technology and the media has led to mushrooming of visual images in teaching and learning resources’ and increasing familiarity with the use of the internet and digital photography has enabled ‘sharing of photographs on a massive scale’ (Snavely et al, 2006). An unscientific questioning of students in a recent lecture produced a 100% show of hands when asked if they had a mobile phone with a camera and an equally full house when asked if they had taken pictures with it. Whilst students may not have been formally taught how to use a camera this anecdotal story suggests informal know-how and expertise.
Miller and DeStoica (2003:13) argue that taking photographs is ‘a cognitive process where perceptual information is represented in working memory’ relating to the personal experience. It is a means of gathering selective information to record events and situations and in its broadest sense is an ‘aid in preserving vivid first impressions in a responsible usable form’ (Collier and Collier, 1986:16). Photography gathers selective images that are precise records of events and situations and as such produce tangible evidence of observations. Even an unprofessional ‘snapshot attitude’ (Cederholm, 2004:227) allows the recording and framing of experience enabling the moment to be ‘held’ until the image is revived for interpretation, in this case of learning, at a later date (Bruner, 2005). Schulz (2007:540) cites Ruby (1995) who suggests that photos as such have no ‘intrinsic meaning’ as individuals give different subjective meanings to the pictures they take and that it is through the use the use of photo-elicitation interviews that these meanings become apparent.


The field trip organisers established the learning aims and objectives that it was anticipated would be achieved during the cruise trip. These were not based upon one particular academic module but were an amalgamation of outcomes that were deemed by the undergraduate cruise pathway tutor to be underpinning elements of learning from the programme of study. The fieldtrip aim was to: provide a real-world opportunity to learn about the cruise industry and contextualise prior cruise industry related learning. The identified learning objectives were to:

  1. Experience the process of embarkation, disembarkation

  2. Examine staff roles and duties of main departments on board a ship

  3. Explain communication systems for crew and passengers

  4. Examine health and safety processes on board a ship

  5. Understand the experiences of a cruise passenger offered on board a ship

In order to facilitate the achievement of these aim and objectives contact was made with the cruise company prior to the fieldtrip and the following activities organised, and confirmed on arrival on board:

  • Talk on roles and duties by Hotel Director/ Entertainment and Retail Director/Food and Beverage Manager/Executive Chef/ Laundry Manager/ Stores Manager/ Restaurant Manager/ First Officer/Entertainment Manager

  • Tour behind the scenes of galley, stores, accommodation, crew mess, laundry, restaurant, theatre, health and fitness suite/spa facilities/ Bridge

Based on the cruise operator website voluntary optional activities were identified that the students could choose to participate in as ‘cruise tourists’. These included:

  • off ship organised excursions/ independent excursions/ use of on ship facilities:

i.e. sundeck, pools, hot tub, fitness classes, spa and beauty salon, 4 restaurants, 8 bars, entertainment including live theatre shows, comedy venue, acrobatics, urban dance, tribute bands, quizzes, cookery demonstrations.

Prior to departure a meeting took place with students who were informed that they were to use this trip to reflect on what they had learnt to date in the classroom about the cruise industry and to try to contextualise their learning whilst on the ship. They were given by staff digital cameras and informed that they would take photographs that would provide a visual representation of that learning. It was emphasised that the ‘set-up’ of the photo was not important and the focus was content/context. No limit was given on the number of photographs they were allowed to take. Permission was sought and granted for the use of their photographs for subsequent publication.

Students completed a Honey and Munford (2000) learning style questionnaire in order to encourage them to think about their own learning and a tutor led participative discussion on reflection and learning took place. In addition students were told that they would receive a reflective learning log where they could record their reflections on their experiences and they would receive further guidance on this during the trip. Whilst the reflective log is not the focus of this particular paper this was another method by which students were encouraged to reflect on their learning throughout the voyage.

After the cruise cameras were collected and all digital photos downloaded by researchers. Students were asked to save onto a memory stick any further digital photos from their own cameras and individual appointments were made with each student. On return to the university 4 students declined to participate in the photo-elicitation stage and have therefore not been included in this study. 12 students were interviewed individually and asked to choose 5 photos (which could include those from their own camera) that best evidenced what they had learnt about the cruise industry. Students were required to explain why their chosen photos best represented learning and to provide details of what that learning was. This was then transcribed by the researcher.

The learning objective B ‘Examine staff roles and duties of main departments on board a ship’ was further categorised to help identify specific areas of onboard activities namely: Bi General/ Bii Bridge/ Biii Kitchen/ Biv Stores/ Bv Talk by Senior Ship Personnel.

Learning objective E ‘Understand the experience of a cruise passenger offered on board a ship’ was also further categorised: Ei Food/ Eii Excursions/ Eiii Entertainment/ Eiv Views of ships. The researchers coded the photos based on the learning objectives with reference to the students’ comments.

Each photo was given a code based on: Student 1-12: i.e. S1, Photo number 1-5, Learning Objectives A, Bi, Bii, Biii, Biv, Bv, C, D, Ei, Eii, Eiii, Eiv.
Step 1. Researchers matched photographs 1-5 to learning objectives A-E based on photo elicitation interviews.
Step 2. Researchers sought evidence of learning linked to learning objectives A-E from photo elicitation interviews.
Step 3. Researchers sought evidence of learning not linked to learning objectives from photo elicitation interviews.

Figure 1- Categorisation Of The Photographs

Photograph Theme

S 1














Behind the Scenes












Tour of ship


Talk by Officers


Crew Info Board


Onboard Ents


Cookery Demo.




Stage show




On Board Various




Fire Hose


Life Jacket


Views from Ship


Offshore Excursions


Touristic Scene




Being a tourist




View of Ships



A categorisation of the photographs (Figure 1, above) shows, perhaps unsurprisingly considering the nature of the pre-arranged activities, that all students included pictures depicting images from ‘behind the scenes’ tours. Indeed one student S1 chose all 5 photos from these activities. Of the 60 photographs taken in total, over half fell into the ‘behind the scenes’ category (see Figure 2) which highlights, from a learning perspective, the importance placed by students on the opportunity to participate in activities that give them an insight into the operation and management of the ship something that most cruise passengers are not able to do. The visit to the Bridge, the Kitchen, the Laundry and the Stores were the source of 22 of the photographs. The images of the Bridge tended to be of the technical equipment and the navigation maps. The pictures of the kitchens and stores were more varied. See below for typical examples:

Figure 2- Total Photographs

S121Bii S61Bii S23Biii

S32Biii S103Biv S122Biv

Other onboard activities photographs provided included those that one might expect from a cruise tourist and depicted scenes of entertainment S115Eiii, and views from the ship, S34Eiv. However, photographs of seemingly random items including rubbish bins S62D identify the student as cruise ‘learner’ rather than cruise ‘tourist’.

S115Eiii S34Eiv S62D

14 of the 60 chosen photographs were taken during off-ship activities and portray typical tourist scenes S91Eii, S102Eii and students engaging in touristic activities S45Eii.

S91Eii S102Eii S45Eii

The reflexive element of the research elicited comments that confirmed that the field trip did indeed create an environment whereby students could apply learning from the classroom into the real-life environment of the cruise ship. The photo elicitation interviews revealed that of the 12 participating students 9 used the term ‘learnt’ or ‘learning’ in their discussion. Whilst the remaining 3 did not use the terms specifically, learning was implied by 2 through comments such as ‘I absorbed a lot about what the officer was saying about the importance of navigation’ S13Bii, and, ‘I was shocked at the impact of the cruise industry on Dubrovnik’ S7Eii. Only one student provided a simple descriptive narrative of what was in the chosen photographs with no reference to learning. Examples included:
To see how much food is required for just 1 weeks cruise voyage helps me to understand the enormity of the way food is brought onto the ship and then processed to all the different departments. They are very strict with the way food is used and everything is monitored. The dates of foods, rotation of foods and different storage rooms with different temperatures is recorded with sophisticated computer system.’ S92Biv.

‘This has re-enforced the importance of the operations behind the scenes. The kitchens are laid out in separate stations and in the background there are a group of chefs who are preparing the vegetables. Note that all staff are wearing appropriate uniforms and this is for safety and health reasons when preparing foods for passengers. Food for staff is prepared in a different area. There are different areas for different sections for example the washing up is in a different area away from the fresh food area.’ S114Biii.

Additional observations relating to the reality of ship life included comments such as, ‘Looking behind the scenes has given me insight into the vastness of the ships operation and how strong management is needed to keep it all going’ S64Biv, ‘There is so little space to do so much work’ S1Bvii, and, ‘the staff have very small cabins and sometimes there can be up to 4 in a cabin’ S25Bi.
Photographs were provided to cover all the learning objectives although only one student took a photograph to represent objective A ‘Experience the process of embarkation, disembarkation’. As all students experienced embarkation and disembarkation for themselves it can be suggested that they all acquired first-hand knowledge of process but did not deem it significant enough to photograph, or, if they did indeed take a picture of these procedures, significant enough to choose for evidence of learning. Whilst on the Bridge 1 student did however, take a picture of the ships record which showed the ‘berth allocation and departure dates as these are very important.’ S112C.
Images reflecting objective B ‘Examine staff roles and duties of main departments on board a ship’, were the most numerous. This was not necessarily surprising as many meetings had been pre-arranged where students would be able to meet and listen to staff discuss their roles and responsibilities. 8 students took photographs of the Bridge where they met the Captain and listened to a talk by the First Officer:

This picture was taken when we had the opportunity to visit the Bridge. I learnt a lot about the role of the 2nd officer. I was amazed about the amount of technology and learnt about the importance of navigation on a cruise ship. Those working on the bridge had a range of qualifications but they also had to have knowledge of health and safety – it’s not just the Captain who had major responsibilities.’ S54Bii.

This photo is during the Bridge tour and it was interesting to see how the ship was managed from the senior navigational officers. We learnt a lot about navigation. There is a hierarchical structure of officers- at the top is the Captain. Communication is vital for efficiency throughout the ship and they need to be constantly aware of any faults which could happen throughout the ship.’ S24B2.
Similar photographs depicting the talk by the Hotel Director, Entertainment and Retail Director and Food and Beverage Manager were chosen by 2 students and their comments expressed their enthusiasm for this opportunity:
‘We had chance to ask questions about working on board ships. The speakers were very honest and gave the positive and negative side of working on a ship – which we had already discussed in class. This discussion made me feel good and positive about life on board a ship. This was information out of the classroom and this was about real life great coming from those working in the industry.’ S53Bv.

I chose this picture because we had an opportunity for a question and answer session with some of the senior officers on the ship. The discussion was informal and we were free to ask lots of questions. I’m very interested in the working lifestyle on the ship. They told us that it’s not just a job, it’s a lifestyle, it’s hard work but very rewarding – although it may not suit everyone to work in quite an intense environment.’ S93Bv.

Interviews also revealed comments about the cultural diversity of the crew members:

I didn’t expect the amount of dishes and pans. This man is working on his own and seems to get on with his work. He looks as though he is from the Philippines and employed in a manual job. This is an important job for him because he can send money back home to his family which is important for their economy.’ S104Biii.
This picture shows a level of hierarchy working in an environment where there are different people for different jobs. He looks as though he works well with others and seems dedicated to his work. I think the only British staff member in the kitchen I’ve seen is the Executive Chef.’ S15Biii.
Whilst Communication systems (Learning objective C ‘Explain communication systems for crew and passengers’) were not discussed in great detail by students- possibly because of the difficulty in visually capturing a process that is often intangible, 2 students took photographs of the Staff Notice board, and one discussed the importance of communication between various groups during off-shore ship arranged excursions:
‘This shows different queues for the different excursions which have been organised next to the coach and the ship. I noticed that they are managed by both the cruise and the ship. A passenger is chatting with the coach driver. Communication is very important as it is a three way process, the ship, the shore tour operators and the passengers.’ S111Eii.

Themes relating to learning objective D ‘Examine Health and safety processes on board a ship’ appeared in 6 pictures although discussion with students revealed that health and safety issues were reflected upon even if they were not immediately apparent from the picture alone (see S54Bii):

This picture shows the responsibility the cruise industry takes to get rid of waste responsibly. It shows how waste is managed on board a ship and stored before it is got rid of -flat pack as much as possible and shrink the waste packages because they need to store the stuff. Stuff is stored off the ground for hygiene reasons.’ S84D.
Learning objective E ‘Understand the experience of a cruise passenger offered on board a ship’ appeared in images representing onboard activities and off shore excursions. In total there were 14 pictures taken off-shore during ship and self organised excusions. The comments around these pictures often related to memorable experiences:

‘This is a picture of a main course I ordered from the special dining room and we had to pay an extra charge. This was served in the La Luna Restaurant. Interesting how the way the meal was served denotes contemporary cuisine. The table was in a contemporary setting, quite modern and even the design of the plate was to compliment the overall theme of the place.’ S113Ei.

‘This is me and G. drinking champagne in St Marks Square. This is a typical tourist pose which shows tourists enjoying the moment and experience the cruise lifestyle experience in a different country. Cruising brings in many tourists that can contribute to the local economy through purchasing goods, such as souvenirs, food and drink in local restaurants and other things.’ S35Eii.

This was a really good way of getting passengers involved with trying the different foods. The 2 head chefs are working together although in competition. I noticed that one of them was from the special restaurant- Passengers loved this – I liked this as it was different. What a great way to build up passenger – cruise relationships!’ S71Eiii.

Students also covered learning about the cruise industry that the researchers were not necessarily covered by the learning objectives per se:
‘Seeing this ship on the quay side reinforced my learning of budget cruise. I don’t think I would like to go on this ship as it looks tired and quite small although I’m quite happy to go on a budget flight. Budget cruises meet the needs of the different target markets otherwise they would not be operating. They are in competition with some big brand names such as P&O, Carnival and Royal Caribbean International.’ S101Eiv.
‘Mixed with the locals and learnt about their culture and boats were important as some of them relied on them for their income.’ S42Eiv. ‘This is us enjoying the local drinks and mixing with the local people. Immersing with local people be it for a short time. Learning something about their culture was interesting. Enjoying the cruise experience is not just about being on board the ship.’ S45eii. ‘They (gondolas) were expensive to hire because a local person has to operate them.’ S33Eii.
The photo elicitation interviews enabled the researchers to discover what the photograph did not immediately reveal particularly the photographs of S2:
This is the main corridor which links all departments below decks. They call it the M4 corridor. Staff work different contracts usually about 6 months. The staff have their own restaurant and because of the varied cultures there is a selection of food which caters for all tastes. The staff have small cabins and sometimes there can be up to four in a cabin.’ S25Bi.

‘Although this picture is blurred I learnt a lot about passengers and communication. You would have thought the elderly passengers would be intimidated by a group of younger passengers like ourselves. Communicating with a different typology of cruise tourist was interesting. Although there was a huge age different we were able to talk to these people because we all had something in common and that was the cruise where it seems that barriers are broken down to allow greater communication between cruise passengers.’ S22Eiii.


A cruise field trip such as the one described in this paper enabled the students to immerse themselves in the subject directly linked to their studies. Clearly defined academic aims and objectives created a structure around which activities were designed that would reinforce classroom based learning. Whilst the students were not aware of the specific nature of these aims and objectives they were aware of the need to reflect on what they had learnt and to apply this learning in the cruise ship environment. Taking photographs enabled them to provide tangible evidence of their reflection and photo elicitation interviews provided the opportunity for them to reflect further. Whilst the photographs are not necessarily technically proficient and some are indeed obscure and blurred they nevertheless have meaning for the individuals who took them. Being able to articulate the meanings behind the photographs encouraged students to discuss what they represented to them as individuals and how they linked to prior and new knowledge. Furthermore the photographs also show that learning has taken place at different times be it during a tour of the kitchens, laundry and other similar areas or during their own personal ‘space’ such as tour visits or leisure time on and off the cruise ship. Each photograph links to one or more of the learning outcomes and the comments show that the photograph is a ‘creative tool’ which reveals how learning goes beyond just ‘looking and learning’ but by ‘learning from experience’ and drawing from previous knowledge. For example the photograph (chosen by S11) shows a chef in a kitchen but the student also draws upon a greater understanding of health and safety, job roles, organisational structure and activity which is something that is not tangibly embedded in the photograph.

A cruise field trip is a valuable activity that allows students to contextualise knowledge gained in the classroom. Photo elicitation provides an interesting method for both staff and students alike to reflect upon the experience and hence embed knowledge. Whilst this paper makes no claim for the depth of learning achieved and some might very well argue that we provide only evidence of surface learning it is nevertheless a worthy and enjoyable method that engages students in reflection in a contemporary way. It must be noted that for a field trip to be truly worthwhile then clear academic objectives must be set and the ground work provided in advance.
Our thanks to students who participated in the study and the staff of Ocean Village II.


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Bibliographical notes
Lisa Power is a Senior Lecturer in Tourism at Southampton Solent University. She has experience in running tourism educational field trips to The Gambia, West Africa and has published on how these student field trips can encourage positive cultural interaction. Her research interests include the representation and interpretation of culture in tourism, and she is currently undertaking a PhD which examines the role of tour guides as cultural brokers.

Patsy Morgan has worked for many years in the hospitality industry, organising functions and hospitality events. The areas of work included hotels, restaurants, private enterprise, the licensed trade and private hospitals. She was a chef lecturer in further education, with further involvement in food service and restaurant training. Patsy is now in her 7th year of higher education and her main focus is on the development of cruise education. She is currently studying for her PhD, which is based on experiences in the cruise industry. She is at present working closely with the cruise industry and is part of the tourism team who are currently developing the BA (Hons) Cruise Industry Management degree for 2010.

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