Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Using On-Campus Monitoring Wells to Enhance Student Learning in Geo-Hydrology Courses

Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Using On-Campus Monitoring Wells to Enhance Student Learning in Geo-Hydrology Courses

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

This project aimed at effective teaching of hydrologic concepts in the water sciences curriculum at the University of Northern Iowa and the State University of New York at New Paltz. The primary goal was to use outdoor instructional facilities to fill the large gap between classroom learning of concepts and its application at the watershed level. In this project, groundwater monitoring wells were set up within walking distance from the instructional buildings. Students were involved in hands-on activities, such as water sampling, on-site chemical analysis, well purging, preparing flow-nets, mapping water table contours, etc. The well clusters served as an effective intermediate step in learning hydrologic concepts. While the shallow wells were useful for unsaturated flow exercises, the deeper bedrock wells were very effective in teaching the natural hydrologic environment in the area. It was much easier for them to understand the negative impact of land use on area waters. We concluded that an on-campus or near campus instructional facility that is built in a natural field setting can bring the students a more effective experience of science. It promotes the basic elements of science inquiry among students, which includes curiosity, observation, synthesis of observed data, reasoning, and objective conclusions.

INTRODUCTION

Changing preconceptions is among the most challenging tasks that today's science educators are dealing with. It is not only a matter of making updated materials available to students, but also is an issue of presentation style and its mechanisms. The literature of science education has been flooded with innovative techniques of delivering lectures in a classroom and involving students in interactive discussions. It is only in the early 80's when hands-on activities emerged as a precondition of improved learning of undergraduate students. Nevertheless, in the recent science-education reform efforts, teachers are constantly looking for innovative ways of involving students in practical exercises in the laboratory. The objectives are two-fold: show them how science works, and involve them in meaningful activities that can change their misconceptions about science. As a result, numerous lab activity books have become commercially available in the last two decades, which include hundreds of pages of illustrations and work schedule. But, some of these lab activity books are so complex that the students get bored and become more scared of science. Indeed, field-based training of undergraduate students in environmental sciences is an area that needs to be strengthened (e.g. Andersen, 2001; Huntoon et al., 2001; Woltemade and Stanitski-Martin, 2002; Lev, 2004), because having a field perspective is the only way to understand and apply environmental and hydrogeologic principles (Weight and Sonderegger, 2002). Many environmental programs neglect field-based training in favor of computer-modeling exercises, which are abundant and commonly the only experimental hydrogeological or environmental activities offered to students (Fetter, 2001; Thorbjarnarson et al., 2002; Dunnivant et al., 2002; Woltemade and Blewett, 2002; Nicols et al., 2003).

An outdoor experimental setup (on-campus or near campus) can provide students a smooth transition from classroom learning to the real world environment. Rahn and Davis (1996) used an operational well field consisting of a main well and 14 observation wells as an educational and research facility for students at South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. They found that students had a better understanding of well hydraulics and showed much enthusiasm during these outdoor educational activities. They learned about static water level, potentiometric surface, pumping, slug and tracer tests, drawdown etc. Trop et al. (2000) successfully integrated field observations with laboratory modeling for understanding hydrologie processes in an introductory Earth-Science course at Purdue University. …

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