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

Paper No. 5
Presentation Time: 2:30 PM


LIEDER, Chris C. and RIGGS, Eric M., Department of Geological Sciences, San Diego State Univ, San Diego, CA 92182-1020, cclieder@aol.com

Field mapping and problem solving are among the most essential yet difficult aspects of geoscience education. Students must visualize the landscape from a two-dimensional map, strategically work to discover structural and lithologic information, create integrated models of their field area from prior knowledge and new, often incomplete information, and then re-encode this information as a geologic map. Independent map tests also require students to do these tasks under time pressure and physical stress. Generally we have a poor understanding of how students gain mapping expertise, and the teaching of mapping is too often left to chance, as educators have few external measures of student thought processes. Cognitive models developed in studies of Naturalistic Problem Solving apply well to geologic mapping, as decision makers must be able to 1) identify relevant features, 2) elaborate on findings using prior knowledge, 3) plan strategies for gathering more information, and 4) execute their plans. We present evidence that these problem solving stages are seen in GPS tracking of student movements during geologic field exams, especially when augmented by analysis of student maps, field notes, and post-examination interviews. We analyzed GPS data collected from units worn by students, constructed density plots of key locations relative to the underlying geology, and conducted speed/dwell time/trajectory analysis of students’ navigational choices. Our results show that successful mappers maximize the total number of key location visits by planning traverses which minimize path repetition, maximize chances to test multiple hypotheses, and take advantage of topography. Successful students also show evidence of longer stops at key locations, correlated to introspection and planning evident in their notes. Pauses are followed by bursts of higher-speed travel which maximize field area coverage. GPS analyses are corroborated by student interviews about mapping sessions, and by analysis of student map accuracy and the quality of field notes. Our study provides a new, external measure of field mapping skill, and potentially provides new tools to help students better develop problem solving strategies and spatial skills. It also provides a means to better understand the evolution of geologic field skills.