CONNECTING COURSEWORK TO THE REAL WORLD: IN THE FIELD WITH A LARGE, PRIMARILY NON-SCIENCE MAJOR CLASS
Between 90 and 120 students register for Environmental Geology, which is offered every semester. The department receives university support for smaller class sizes, so students are generally in classes of 30 to 50. Most students are from this region (Central and Eastern PA, NY, and NJ) and are non-science majors taking the course to fulfill General Education requirements for science and math. We give up a week of class in order to offer the field trip, which usually overlaps times when the classes are held. Multiple field trip times are offered during the week, and students travel by bus. The field trip traverses stream terraces, the Susquehanna flood plain, valleys and ridges, farm land that may soon be turned into developments, a water supply area for the southern anthracite coal fields, roadsides subject to mass wasting, and streams affected by acid mine drainage. We also make stops in Centralia, PA (famous for its mine fire) where we discuss the history of coal mining in the area and the effects of the mine fire, as well as a relatively new wind farm occupying a nearby ridge. Students also get a brief tour of the Pioneer Tunnel Coal Mine
Making the connection between the classroom and the world outside the university is important for these students, many of whom will receive little other exposure to courses in the natural sciences. In informal discussions, students report being surprised at how much geology relates to the world around them, and more than two thirds of students responding to an anonymous survey agreed that that the field trip helped them make this connection. The field trip is effective as both an introduction to and a reinforcement of concepts discussed in class. It is also a touchstone, to which we repeatedly return in class discussions.