Paper No. 27-10
Presentation Time: 9:00 AM-5:30 PM
GIS AS A COMMON PLATFORM FOR UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCH IN COURSES AND DIRECTED STUDIES AT ALBION COLLEGE
The Albion College Geology Department offers a sequence of three geographic information systems (GIS) courses leading to a GIS minor. These courses are not required for Geology majors or minors, though all of our students are strongly encouraged to enroll in the introductory GIS course at a minimum. This coordinated advisory approach has succeeded in establishing basic GIS proficiency as a common knowledge base shared by a large proportion of our students. Increasingly, this collective GIS competency has been viewed as an asset to be leveraged as research tool in embedded and independent research projects across the curriculum. Undergraduate research is an integral part of the mission and curriculum of the Department and is implemented in a scaffolded manner, ranging from opportunities geared to first-year students to the completion of senior theses. Embedded research projects in advanced courses and required independent research comprise the intermediate tiers of this structure and typically focus on discipline-specific methodologies. The leveraging of GIS in such research contexts has several beneficial outcomes. Incorporation of GIS techniques into course-embedded research transforms these projects into interdisciplinary and integrative experiences, transcending the barriers imposed by traditional curricular structure and more closely mimicking the reality of modern scientific research. By providing an avenue for students to actively apply knowledge acquired in a previous course, students are likely to be more engaged in and to claim a higher degree of ownership of their research. Because a GIS approach emphasizes spatial data analysis and relationships, using GIS encourages students to critically consider how to most effectively visualize and analyze their data and present results. Research projects incorporating GIS components have been successfully implemented across the curriculum. In particular, local field-based and environmental projects have proven to be particularly well-suited to this approach, resulting in dynamic research projects that capitalize on students’ personal experiences. Additionally, this research project model is inverted in the advanced GIS course such that students are encouraged to explore GIS-based solutions to research questions from other disciplines.