January 2009 Journal of Geoscience Education

Volume 57, Number 1

Using Problem-Based Learning to Bring the Workplace into the Classroom
Kelsie A. Dadd, Macquarie University
A modified form of problem-based learning (PBL) with problems based on real workplace scenarios was trialled in a third year university class on Environmental Geology. Problems were developed in consultation with industry and based on their recent projects. These were then modified to allow for the shorter timeframe available, the less developed technical skills of the students, and their inability to collect data on working sites. Students worked in small "company" groups. Each problem required the students to produce a tender or request for proposal (RFP) document and a report based on the industry-standard guidelines. Problem topics included a preliminary investigation of a contaminated site, a geotechnical investigation of a landslide-prone area, and preparation of geological data for an environmental impact assessment of a proposed mine site. The unit was designed using PBL as this teaching format leads to increased student engagement with the subject matter and development of a range of graduate attributes. Our modified form of PBL provides a lecture series that gives background to the
problems and in this instance, almost all lectures were given by industry representatives. Students enjoyed the overall format and the use of real workplace examples. Group work generally rated more poorly in the unit evaluation than expected. Working with industry brought new challenges largely due to the mobility and time commitments of industry representatives in a field-based and global industry.
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Introducing Field-Based Geologic Research Using Soil Geomorphology
Martha Cary Eppes, University of North Carolina-Charlotte
A field-based study of soils and the factors that influence their development is a strong, broad introduction to geologic concepts and research. A course blueprint is detailed where students design and complete a semester-long field-based soil geomorphology project. Students are first taught basic soil concepts and to describe soil, sediment and rock properties using standard description procedures. Then, with minimal geological or field experience, they are led to design and execute a project that examines how soil properties differ as a function of processes, parent material and time. By designing and executing the semester-long project, students gain familiarity with the entire geologic research process including basic field observation, hypothesis development and testing, interpretation and presentation skills. During the course, students learn 1) the basic knowledge necessary to describe geologic materials (soil, rock, sediment) in the field, 2) to make observations and interpret them in the context of geologic hypotheses which they have developed, 3) to develop, and execute a field-based research project, 4) to integrate and draw conclusions about complicated semi-quantitative data sets, 5) to map and survey in the field and 6) to present their research in a public forum. By the end of the semester students are able to make and test hypotheses relating soil properties to the depositional environment, age and/or type of geologic deposits in which they form. The knowledge, skills and research experience gained in this simple, semester-long project serve students well in upper-level courses and beyond. An example project is presented from a 2nd order stream and its adjacent tributary alluvial fans in the Piedmont of North Carolina.
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Design and Assessment of an Introductory Geomicrobiology Course for Non-Geology Majors
B. Hernández-Machado, University of Puerto Rico-Humacao
Lilliam Casillas-Martínez
Recent discoveries about the role of microorganisms in the establishment of the geological conditions in the planet have lead to the development of courses in Geomicrobiology. Unfortunately, most courses are designed for students with a strong Geology background, which is a limitation for universities that lack such courses. To overcome this limitation at our university, we have designed a special topics course entitled Introductory Geomicrobiology that was offered for the first time to undergraduate students from the Biology, Marine Biology and Microbiology Programs. To attract non-geology majors the course included topics such as description of Early Earth ecosystems, search for geo-biological signatures and current approaches in the search for extra-terrestrial life forms. An active learning environment was fostered throughout the course through different activities including oral reports of research papers in the subject, followed by Gallery Runs and class discussions. Our assessment strategies, both formative and summative, revealed that such presentations were an effective way to introduce students to eight main concepts of Geomicrobiology. Student performance was stronger in group discussions than individually, with Gallery Runs as the preferred class discussion technique. Overall, our assessment system proved that the design of the course was effective in teaching Geomicrobiology to non-geology majors.
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An Online Social Networking Approach to Reinforce Learning of Rocks and Minerals
Patrick J. Kennelly, Long Island University
Numerous and varied methods are used in introductory Earth science and geology classes to help students learn about rocks and minerals, such as classroom lectures, laboratory specimen identification, and field trips. This paper reports on a method using online social networking. The choice of this forum was based on two criteria. First, many traditional students are likely comfortable with such an interface and its associated learning style. Second, social networking sites have functionality, such as the ability for users to link and group themselves, which is not available in other common web-facilitated learning
environments such as course management systems. Each student was assigned the role of a unique mineral and rock. They were required to create a separate web page for each, with a photograph and description, on MySpace.com, a popular social networking web site. They were also required to join groups based on the classification of the rock or mineral. Finally, they were required to link to the minerals that constitute each rock by becoming "friends." A post-exercise questionnaire showed all students found this a useful and enjoyable exercise, and most believed it helped them to learn and remember information about rocks and minerals.
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Using National Parks to Transform Physical Geology into an Inquiry Experience
Phyllis Leary Newbill, Radford University
For an inquiry-based alternative to lectures and recall tests, I encouraged learners to become "geotourists"; that is, learners researched and developed a geologic guidebook to a United States National Park of their choice. Over the course of a semester, students wrote chapters on plate tectonics, the rock cycle, geologic history, groundwater and hydrology, geomorphology, and topographic maps. By applying the physical geology concepts to a particular location, learners found the material to be relevant and engaging. Keys to success included developing detailed rubrics, reading multiple drafts, and using appropriate instructional technologies. Students who participated in the class reported that the project involved considerable work, but was more interesting and relevant than lecture exams.
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Geologic Problem Solving in the Field: Analysis of Field Navigation and Mapping by Advanced Undergraduates
Eric M. Riggs, Purdue University
Christopher C. Lieder, San Diego State University
Russell Balliet, Purdue University
Field instruction is a critical piece of undergraduate geoscience majors' education, and fieldwork remains a major part of the work of professional geologists. Despite the central importance of field education, there exists relatively little educational research exploring how students learn to solve problems in geological fieldwork. This study adds tools and insight to the study of field problem solving. We used GPS tracking of students engaged in independent field examinations, and developed
two parallel coding approaches for analyzing student navigational choices. Taken together, our coding enables correlation of navigational characteristics with performance and lends insight into problem solving by building on a conceptual framework modified from the cognitive science field of Naturalistic Decision Making. Our results indicate that most advanced geology undergraduates are capable of recognizing important features in the field, however lower-performing students fail to systematically test multiple interpretations of their data as reflected in poorly planned traverses across the examination field area. Specific track sequences, especially those involving reoccupation of locations, show particular difficulties in aspects of problem solving that are reflected in low quality interpretations on finished maps. Our study offers new tools and an independent approach to gauging student skills in geologic field problem solving.
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Introducing Teachers to Geospatial Technology while Helping Them to Discover Vegetation Patterns in Owens Valley, California
Kathleen Sherman-Morris, Mississippi State University
John Morris, California State University
Keith Thompson, Mississippi State University
A field course attended by science teachers in California's Owens Valley incorporated geospatial technology to reinforce the relationship between elevation, aspect, or the direction a mountain slope faces, and vegetation. Teachers were provided GPS units to record locations and plant communities throughout the 9-day field course. At the end of the field course, they completed an exercise utilizing ArcGIS and/or Google Earth. A similar essay question about vegetation and elevation was answered at the beginning of the course and after the GIS/Google Earth exercise. Scores on this pre- and post- activity question as well as responses to a survey questionnaire indicate that GIS and Google Earth both helped the teachers understand how elevation influences vegetation. The role of aspect was not as well demonstrated in the post-test responses as that of elevation. Teachers reported being more likely to use Google Earth in their classrooms than GIS (75% to 58.3%). Combined with GPS, Google Earth provides a free, easy and flexible way to teach a number of earth science concepts and meet several National
Geography Standards.
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Integrative mapping of global-scale processes and patterns on "imaginary Earth" continental geometries: A teaching tool in an Earth History course
David Sunderlin, Lafayette College
The complexity and interrelatedness of aspects of the geosciences is an important concept to convey in an undergraduate geoscience curriculum. A synthesis capstone project has served to integrate pattern-based learning of an introductory Earth History course into an active and process-based exercise in hypothesis production. In this exercise, students are given (1) an imaginary global continental configuration and (2) a general categorization of the global climate. Students then work through cause/effect relationships in Earth processes and hypothesize global biotic and abiotic patterns to be mapped upon the imaginary continental framework. Presentation and discussion of each student's imaginary earth and his/her interpretation of the various mappable parameters engages students in each other's reasoning and creative thought processes while promoting group learning and increasing science communication skills. Examination of the evidence and procedures used in the retrodiction of actual global paleogeographic scenarios is then placed in the context of this project. In practice, students have responded enthusiastically to the opportunity to develop geographic interpretations of an imaginary paleogeographic framework using their understanding of modern Earth systems. Upon exit evaluation, greater than 85% of the students taking part in the exercise felt more confident in their ability to hypothesize patterns from process.
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National Association of Geoscience Awards for 2008
Neil Miner Award, James H. Shea Award, Outstanding Earth Science Teacher Awards by region.
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