Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Successful Curriculum Development and Evaluation of Group Work in an Introductory Mineralogy Laboratory

Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Successful Curriculum Development and Evaluation of Group Work in an Introductory Mineralogy Laboratory

Article excerpt


Mineralogy is a core topic for tertiary geoscience programs worldwide. We report on the use of laboratory group work as an effective and integral part of a new introductory mineralogy curriculum at the University of British Columbia. The new laboratory curriculum was developed by incorporating student feedback with evidence-based pedagogies. These pedagogies include (1) learning goal-based restructuring of content, (2) use of applied topics (e.g., economic mineralogy) and custom projects to promote student engagement, and (3) use of group work and group assessment in order to provide students with opportunities for peer-supported learning and meaningful feedback from teaching assistants (TAs). The new curriculum was evaluated by using a pre- and posttest system and anonymous student surveys in the 2008 and 2009 fall terms. The pre- and posttest results indicate that groups performed better than did individual students, with groups of three and four showing the most positive effects, albeit in different ways. In addition, successful collaboration within groups led to an overall improvement in student performance over the term, with most groups showing an overall larger "success" in the posttest than in the pretest, and the range in student scores within groups getting smaller (by members benefiting from group peer education). Student surveys showed student satisfaction with the new laboratory curriculum and the use of group work and group assessment. Future improvements include the use of a validated instrument in order better understand learning gains and better use or training of TAs to encourage and maintain positive group dynamics.

© 2012 National Association of Geoscience Teachers. [DOI: 10.5408/10-212.1]

Key words: mineralogy, lab, group work, collaboration, curriculum development, group size


Introductory Mineralogy is typically a foundational course in a geosciences degree program and is a prerequisite for other core topics (e.g., petrology, field geology). All Earth scientists learn about minerals and their properties, as they are the fundamental building blocks of the Earth (Hawthorne, 1993). There is ongoing discussion in the geological community on the curriculum and the way in which this subject is taught (Constantopoulos, 1994; Brady et al., 1997; Dutrow, 2004; Reinhardt, 2004; Swope and Giere, 2004; Perkins, 2005; Boyle, 2007; Mogk, 2007; Wirth, 2007). This discussion is represented by a continuum of mineralogy courses that exist between "traditional" crystallograprric theory-based and practical identification-based mineralogy needed for petrology subjects (Dutrow, 2004).

Mineralogy courses often have a laboratory module, which is used to teach both the theory and the practical skills needed for mineral identification. The American National Research Council defines laboratories as "[places] where students interact directly with the material (or with data), using tools, data collection techniques, models and theories of science" (Singer et al., 2005). Faculty and alumni of the geosciences consider laboratories (or an equivalent format) essential for teaching the necessary basics of mineralogy and petrology (Plymate et al., 2005). The 2.5-h, weekly laboratory sessions discussed in this paper are a part of a new mineralogy curriculum at the University of British Columbia (UBC), which have been designed to integrate both theory and mineral identification. Laboratories offer an excellent stage for learner-centered environments that require active and collaborative learning. In this paper, we discuss the use of group work as an effective part of the laboratory format in the Introductory Mineralogy course at UBC. The Introductory Mineralogy laboratories are introduced below.


At UBC, mineralogy focuses primarily on crystallography and hand-sample identification techniques. The mineralogy course size typically ranges from 100 to 110 students per semester, with five different laboratory sessions of 12-30 students each, each taught by one graduate teaching assistant (TA). …

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