INCORPORATING HANDHELD COMPUTERS AND POCKET GIS INTO THE UNDERGRADUATE AND GRADUATE FIELD GEOLOGY CURRICULUM
In the undergraduate course, a series of customized forms led the students through the processes of rock description and structural measurement, reinforcing instruction by the teaching staff. Additional learning aids, such as geologic dictionaries, stratigraphic columns, and field-methods tutorials, were also incorporated into the devices, providing an in-field reference system. The GPS receivers aided students in locating themselves as they learned to read topographic maps. The ability to use multiple base maps and to change map scale in real-time to accommodate variable geological complexity were also advantageous. Student teams routinely compiled ?virtual? maps, allowing improved tracking of their progress, and giving them the ability to share map data with other teams. Final map compilation from digital field maps was a straight forward process. Drawbacks included: 1) physical limitations of the computers (small screen size, power requirements, fragility, and weatherproofing); 2) a significant start-up cost in both hardware and manpower; and 3) additional instruction to get students comfortable with both the handheld computers and the necessarily complex software designed for geologic mapping. We found that the students typically moved more slowly in the field with handheld devices than with traditional maps and field notebooks.
Our experiences in the graduate courses were considerably less problematic. Data collected at specific localities (using the GPS) consisted of a limited set of observations, permitting fairly simple forms. The simpler software increased data-collection efficiency over traditional methods. Computer fluency was greater among the graduate students than among the undergraduates, causing less consternation when software bugs were encountered. Immediate availability of the data for field analysis was a distinct advantage. Further development and improvement of this system, particularly for geologic mapping, continues.