THE CHALLENGE OF STUDENT OWNERSHIP OF RESEARCH PROJECTS IN INTRODUCTORY GENERAL EDUCATION GEOSCIENCE COURSES
In the original assignment, groups of 3 to 5 students proposed a topic, developed a hypothesis, planned and completed data collection, and presented their work at the end of the semester as a poster, a talk, and a group paper. Students had complete ownership of the projects. However, the projects were simplistic, barely related to class topics, and followed a stereotypical version of the scientific method; students did not reach a better understanding of the process of science.
In 2007, the assignment was replaced by the Florida River project. Each lab section studied one of nine sites along a local stream, and collected four sets of data (discharge, turbidity, and two sets of water chemistry) in groups of 4 to 6 students. Groups prepared for their data collection by graphing previous data, doing background research, and predicting a reasonable range for their results. In their oral and paper presentations, groups presented their results and compared them to two sets of data: data collected previously at the same site, and data collected at different sites during the same semester. The project better reflected the practice of geoscience, but students had little ownership of the project. Last year, in addition to the group data collection, each student proposed an individual question, based on both their data and data previously collected (including NWS, USDA Snotel, and Colorado Water Resources discharge data). Creative thinking about the project improved, but students’ sense of ownership was still low. More authentic preparation (including analysis of graphed data) may lead to more improvements.