2004 Denver Annual Meeting (November 7–10, 2004)

Paper No. 2
Presentation Time: 1:45 PM


THOMAS, Robert C., Environmental Sciences Department, University of Montana Western, 710 S. Atlantic St., Box 83, Dillon, MT 59725 and ROBERTS, Sheila M., Department of Environmental Sciences, Univ of Montana Western, Dillon, MT 59725, Rob.thomas@umwestern.edu

Faculty who teach summer field courses understand that the field-based course is one of the best learning experiences for undergraduate geoscience students. The students in field courses are focused on one project at time, they have adequate time to gather and analyze data, and they even have time to solve applied problems based on their data. The frustration for many geoscience faculty is that this is the sole field experience for many of these undergraduate students, and many of the field experiences that occur during the academic year are essentially field-based lectures that don’t really engage students in problem solving activities. For large campuses, there are clear logistical problems that make field-based courses very difficult. However, faculty members at smaller campuses also struggle to incorporate field-based courses during the academic year because the lecture-based scheduling system is unfriendly to these courses. To solve the problem, The University of Montana-Western adopted a one-class-at-a-time scheduling system that has been used successfully by Colorado College and a few other private colleges for many years, but it has never been tried at a public university until now. Under this approach, students take four classes per semester that are taught one at a time for an average of three hours per day. Each class lasts for 18 instructional days and the students and faculty get a four-day break between each course. This scheduling system provides ample time to do field-based courses, and since students take one course at a time, it allows them to focus in much the same way that students focus during field camp. Preliminary data from the first two years of a FIPSE (Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education)-funded pilot program at The University of Montana-Western show dramatic improvements in student performance, retention and satisfaction.