2007 GSA Denver Annual Meeting (28–31 October 2007)

Paper No. 5
Presentation Time: 9:00 AM


HARPP, Karen S., Geology, Colgate University, 13 Oak Drive, Hamilton, NY 13346, kharpp@mail.colgate.edu

Despite its importance in the geology curriculum, fieldwork is often challening to integrate with classroom learning. Students and instructors alike struggle with a disconnection between theoretical concepts and their application in the field. At Colgate, we use several models to assimilate field and classroom experiences.

All projects in Environmental Geochemistry are student-designed and based on local issues. There are no distinct boundaries between lecture, lab, and fieldwork. Brief lectures are embedded within labs, so that students learn techniques and concepts while engaged in their projects. The self-designed projects provide motivation for the learning process, making it goal-oriented and grounded in practical questions. Students design their own sample collection schemes; they return to the field as often as necessary, refining their methods as they collect data. Fieldwork becomes an essential step toward answering their questions, fully integrated with the concepts being learned in lab.

In contrast, the only field opportunities in Volcanology are limited to a spring break trip. During the excursion, students solve one or more focused questions each day, fieldwork providing the means to deduce the answers (often unknown to the instructors as well, a microcosm of research methods). As a result, students see fewer locations than on a traditional fieldtrip, but in considerably greater detail and with an emphasis on the intensive use of field methods and active engagement in the discovery process.

We employ similar approaches in student research. Prior to participating in fieldwork, students develop their own, specific research questions. In the field, we emphasize hypothesis-testing, iteratively re-designing plans to address questions related to the broad research goals. We find that students with a field component in their project remain more engaged throughout the year than those who are handed their samples, illustrating the importance of student involvement in all aspects of research.

The common thread among these experiences is that in every case, students have defined focused questions guiding their work in the field. This hypothesis-driven method, commonly used in the classroom, translates well to fieldwork and is highly effective for integrating field experiences into the curriculum.