2011 GSA Annual Meeting in Minneapolis (912 October 2011)
Paper No. 97-5
Presentation Time: 9:00 AM-6:00 PM


RIEMERSMA, Peter E., Department of Geology, Grand Valley State University, 1 Campus Drive, Allendale, MI 49401, riemersp@gvsu.edu

Incorporating a mock trial as an integral part of a course can be a successful way to engage students in investigating and researching an issue. A mock trial typically involves groups of students representing defendants and plaintiffs, playing the role of lawyers and expert witnesses. The mock trial format satisfied general education goals by forcing students to view ideas from multiple perspectives, work together as a group, creatively locate, evaluate and use information, and engage in effective communication. For example, preparing cross-examination of witnesses required that groups strive to anticipate the arguments the opposing side might employ. In addition, because student groups were diverse, careful consideration of expertise was required to best assign duties. An abundance of information, limited trial time and an uninformed jury required careful research and choreography of testimony for the trial. The trial itself was billed as the culminating experience of the course, and peer pressure motivated students to do their best. In my course the mock trial provided the framework for the entire course and rationale for most assignments completed during the course.

I taught four sections of Geo 300, an upper level general education class that was centered on the actual events portrayed in the book 'A Civil Action" by Jonathan Harr. This book examines the legal struggle of families in Woburn, Massachusetts who sued corporations alleging that improperly handled chemicals had contaminated groundwater and caused health problems. Much of the content for the course was originally developed by Scott Bair and colleagues and includes courtroom documents, newspaper articles, and a variety of hydrologic and geologic data that are accessible at the website http://serc.carleton.edu/woburn/. The mock trial focused on the technical aspects of the case, in particular whether contaminants travelled from the plaintiffs' property and were captured by city water supply wells. Each group prepared their own case, including trial strategy, witness questions and also constructed geologic cross-sections, groundwater flow and contaminant plume maps as exhibits for their expert witnesses. In particular, the mock trial was an effective method to highlight the uncertainties and challenges in making environmental decisions.

2011 GSA Annual Meeting in Minneapolis (912 October 2011)
General Information for this Meeting
Session No. 97--Booth# 57
Geoscience Education (Posters) II
Minneapolis Convention Center: Hall C
9:00 AM-6:00 PM, Monday, 10 October 2011

Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, Vol. 43, No. 5, p. 253

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