Paper No. 272-65
Presentation Time: 9:00 AM-6:30 PM
PALEOECOLOGY AS A CAPSTONE COURSE FOR GEOSCIENCES: AN INTENSIVE, FIELD-BASED APPROACH
Paleoecology straddles the disciplines of biology, geology, and paleontology, taking the best of each to create a more holistic understanding of natural processes. One of the main goals of geosciences courses has always been the recognition of complex processes and interactions in a field setting, and the ability for successful students to be able to explain their reasoning on how they came to these conclusions. Recognizing the gap in learning the material versus being able to apply it to dynamic settings, paleoecology was proposed as an elective course for upper-level geoscience students. The course included three elements deemed as lacking within undergraduate abilities: 1) the ability to read and discern information from written sources; 2) the ability to identify rocks, fossils, and structures in a field setting, as well as describe them and take samples for further clarification in the lab; and 3) the ability to then summarize this information in a clear and concise manner, as well as interpret these parts into a holistic understanding of the system under study. Student ability at the beginning of the course was poor; however, the ability to read and understand material improved with time. Attention to detail was emphasized throughout, and while initially combatted, students steadily became more adept and attentive, collecting multiple samples along a bed, returning to these to gather more information, and looking up more sources to find out about the rock units in question, many of which lacked information or were severely understudied. While students were general capable of listing information, they struggled with being able to use this information to explain their interpretations, often just reiterating previous works or what they heard from fellow students in the field. In future courses, more focus will be given to explaining themselves, and further promoting the use of past publications. Overall, students were pleased with the experience, which carried the added benefit of field projects being able to be converted to presentations. Drastic improvements were seen in those students who attended the course, and it is planned to become part of the required curriculum for our majors, and is highly recommended for any students pursuing careers in sedimentology, stratigraphy, petroleum geology, or paleontological sciences.