INTEGRATING RESEARCH INTO AN UNDERGRADUATE AQUEOUS GEOCHEMISTRY LABORATORY COURSE AT JAMES MADISON UNIVERSITY
Students in this 1 credit lab composed of 8-13 students / year are majoring in geology, chemistry, or biology and are enrolled in a common 3 credit course entitled Geochemistry of Natural Waters, which enrolls 30-60 students / year.
The lab uses a team-based learning format in which the entire class picks a research topic dealing with water chemistry, such as “What is the chemistry of...”; my bottled water? surface water found at JMU?; storm water in and around Harrisonburg, VA? groundwater in the Shenandoah Valley?; spring water in the Shenandoah Valley? Students then work in smaller teams and are taught standard methods to collect, preserve, and analyze field and lab data that are used to determine the chemical composition of cations, anions, and isotopes of water. Each student, however, is responsible for identifying and collecting unique samples and for a written and graphical analysis/interpretation of their results. Throughout, students reject or accept hypotheses regarding factors that influence their waters’ chemistry (drawing heavily on class lecture). In Fall 2015 the course will incorporate a peer review component including a requirement for feedback and revision. In the end, students collectively attempt to answer the overall research question based on all data collected.
This evolving research experience has qualitatively increased student motivation to persist and succeed in both lab and lecture portions of the course. Moreover, many students continue to conduct research (at the undergraduate and graduate level) in aqueous chemistry. Current curriculum has also allowed faculty to meet the increased student demand for research opportunities dealing with aqueous chemistry by integrating research experience into the curriculum rather than relying upon one-on-one mentoring.