2005 Salt Lake City Annual Meeting (October 16–19, 2005)

Paper No. 4
Presentation Time: 2:15 PM


EGGER, Anne E., Geological and Environmental Sciences, Stanford University, 450 Serra Mall, Building 320, Stanford, CA 94305-2115, annegger@pangea.stanford.edu

At Stanford, the Fundamentals of Geology course (GES 1) typically consists of ~35% engineering majors (for whom it is required), ~15% existing or potential earth science majors, and ~50% students who are undeclared and/or fulfilling a general education requirement. For some, GES 1 will be the only college-level science course they take; for others, it is squeezed in between calculus-based physics and materials science. Engaging students with such a wide variety of interests and preparation is a challenge I met by making the course largely activity-based, minimizing lectures, foregoing the textbook for more concise, relevant readings, and assigning a final paper rather than a final exam.

To allow time for activities, GES 1 meets twice a week for 2 hours as a large group and once a week in a smaller, 1-hour discussion section with a TA. Class meetings consist of group activities with minimal lectures as needed. Students complete web-based readings and short follow-up assignments on their own. For a final paper, students write about the geology of a location of interest, submitting both a topic and a rough draft to me prior to the final paper.

Based on mid- and end-quarter evaluations, strong class attendance, lively in-class discussions, volumes of email and frequent office visits, students were more engaged by this course than by a traditional lecture/lab course. Specific comments included: • In-class activities and hands-on learning are really effective • Use of web resources was … helpful, readings more current and engaging • Class definitely more focused on actually learning than test-taking • (The class format) helped me to really understand the material, since I had to synthesize material discussed in class, and I was allowed to creatively discuss my thoughts • … I plan on taking geology classes for fun!

On the other hand, many students were frustrated by the lack of a textbook. Suggestions for improvement included providing a more structured course guide and posting readings earlier. A major consequence of this format is that the number of topics that can be covered is severely curtailed. The final paper successfully made up for this, however, as students taught themselves concepts that interested them, even if they had not been discussed in class. Overall, the benefits of student (and instructor) engagement outweighed the problems.