WHY IRELAND? ANALYZING AN INTERNATIONAL FIELD EXPERIENCE ON ITS TENTH ANNIVERSARY
Strengths: The JMU field course has a cadre of instructors from JMU, National University of Ireland - Galway, and other institutions. The course is a recognized leader in field education, with publications highlighting digital mapping, field assessment, and original research by undergraduate students.
Weaknesses: The Irish climate can be a distraction and can negatively impact student morale. Field areas in Ireland are predominantly on private land, and access can be an issue. Opportunities: The geology of western Ireland provides prime field sites in faulted sedimentary rocks, multiply deformed metamorphic rocks, glaciated terrain, and coastal karst environments. The cultural and archeological legacy of several thousand years of human habitation provides a fascinating counterpoint to the geology. These promote the development of ancillary courses and research experiences.
Threats: Though not unique to the Ireland field course, transportation time and vehicle safety are frequent concerns. The cost of an international experience likely shuts out some students. Faculty manpower needs for a 6 week summer course can lead to burnout after a few years.
The JMU Geology Field Course in Ireland has a solid reputation that attracts students from institutions across the US. However, escalating costs and faculty commitments have led us to consider alternative approaches to our capstone field requirement. Options include offering the Ireland course in alternate years, with a domestic course in the intervening years, or splitting the experience into a three-hour domestic introductory course, followed by a three-hour advanced course in Ireland. These alternatives would be cheaper for JMU students, but could discourage participation from non-JMU students with a more traditional field course requirement. Many of the challenges faced by the JMU field course are common among US geoscience departments and highlight the need for continued discussions on best practices for field education.
Additional Co-Authors: Ronald Phillips, Yonathan Admassu, Shelley Whitmeyer