An Integrative Summer Field Course in Geology and Biology for K-12 Instructors and College and Continuing Education Students at Eastern Washington University and Beyond

Article excerpt


For the last fifteen years, a small group of faculty members in the departments of geology and biology at Eastern Washington University in Cheney, WA have offered a seven to ten day interdisciplinary summer field course. The course is designed for college students, K-12 instructors, and for those seeking continuing education experiences. We have been successful in attracting students who take the course repeatedly and continue to draw a pool of new students by providing a different route each year within a 1280 km (800 mi) radius of our institution. Our academic expectations are rigorous and include reading assignments, pre-trip questions, field notebooks and journal entries as well as a research paper and follow-up post-trip questions all of which are designed to capitalize on the integration of the two disciplines. This field course is one way in which we get our students out in the field for a trip longer than a day trip or weekend trip to learn about the interaction of geology and biology on both small and large scales in the scenic Pacific Northwest. We suggest that this technique of integration may be applied to field courses at a variety of academic institutions and in any physiographic province provided that three critical aspects in the successful implementation of our approach are met: (1) Two (or more) faculty in different fields that are willing to work together during preparation and execution of the course; (2) A clear primary objective or overarching theme for the course that is well-defined and that lends itself to an integrative approach; and (3) A prominent National Park or significant geographic feature to enhance the interest in the course and to draw enrollments.


Eastern Washington University (EWU) is part of the Washington State university system located in Cheney, WA, just 26 km (16 mi) from the Spokane metropolitan area (population 417,000) (Figure 1). EWU is a comprenensive university providing services to over 9,500 students, primarily from the Inland Northwest but also serving students from nearly every state and more than 20 different countries. The university's location in the Pacific Northwest provides an excellent opportunity to explore vastly different physiographic provinces within a day's drive from the campus. As such, for the last fifteen years, we have offered a seven to ten day interdisciplinary summer field course for college students (both undergraduate and graduate) majoring in geology or biology, K-12 instructors, and for those seeking continuing education experiences. At EWU, the course meets a degree requirement for a five-credit elective field-oriented study for our majors. The interdisciplinary (geology, botany, ecology, history) approach to our field course has allowed us to offer neither a typical geology field camp course nor a traditional plant identification or plant ecology course for majors in geology or biology and may be used by other institutions wishing to do the same. In the early years we incorporated a few simple geological and ecological measurement techniques that could be reproduced in a high school classroom into the course. Now most of the field experience focuses on recognition and interpretation of geological features and the dominant flora, and especially on how geological forces and plant and animal ecology interact.

Most of our students are from EWU, but we also draw from other institutions throughout the country as well as from the local Spokane Community Colleges. In the first five or so years of the program, teachers seeking continuing education credits were a major constituent and, in fact, were the initial impetus for the development of a field course that would offer an interdisciplinary perspective. However, the type of student served has evolved since the course's inception. Participation in the course by K-12 teachers has dropped off from comprising over half of the enrollment to generally including only two or three out of twenty students. …


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