One drawback to teaching large lecture-based introductory courses is that many concepts can be covered only in a cursory way, with limited opportunities to provide an immersive, detail-oriented environment. This is a major problem—an understanding of geologic principles and their local and global impacts on our daily lives is vital, yet may students with little interest in or experience with science have few chances to be exposed to the process of scientific research in a meaningful way. Lab courses provide opportunities for hands-on instruction, but class size (often up to 30 students or more) limits the scale of activities that can be attempted in a traditional setting. To provide students exposure to more detailed, in-depth, and realistic avenues of geologic inquiry a series of activity modules was developed for an introductory physical geology course taught at the University of West Georgia. Each activity is designed to explore a concept discussed in lecture in far greater detail, using advanced equipment and techniques, over the course of a one-hour session. Examples of activities to be used in the course are: observing minerals in an SEM to understand crystal forms, cleavage, and composition of some common minerals; using petrographic microscopes to demonstrate common textures and minerals in igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rocks; an on-campus field trip to examine landforms, stream processes, and pollution; and a floodplain simulation table to explore patterns of land use and flood risks.
These modules will be presented as an optional activity to the class; students will sign up for a particular module on a first-come basis. Pre- and post-tests will assess student learning and the effectiveness of individual modules; the opportunity to receive extra credit provides incentive for student participation. In addition to tracking learning within each module, the performance on the lecture exams of students who participate in modules will be compared to those who did not take part. In addition to class performance, these modules may inspire a stronger appreciation for geosciences, promote critical thinking skills, and develop a greater awareness of the need to apply geoscientific knowledge to issues of public policy.