Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Building an Outdoor Classroom for Field Geology: The Geoscience Garden

Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Building an Outdoor Classroom for Field Geology: The Geoscience Garden

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

The Geoscience Garden is an installation at the University of Alberta designed to assist in the education of geoscience students in field data collection and interpretation and to ease the transition from the classroom to the field. Though primarily designed for students learning geologic mapping in the second to fourth year of geoscience programs, it is also visited by a range of students in introductory classes and in other programs and has an outreach function, acting as an extension to indoor museums housed nearby and thus reaching a diverse public. The Geoscience Garden is installed close to the classrooms in which most geoscience teaching occurs. It provides an environment in which geoscience students can learn basic techniques of field observation, measurement, and mapping, without facing some nongeologic challenges that emerge on the first day at field school.

In the following, we first summarize the challenges uniquely faced by Earth Science educators and students involved in field education. We then describe the physical context of the University of Alberta campus and the role of field school and related classes in geology and other programs. We then describe the construction of the Geoscience Garden and the role it has played in these courses and other activities on campus. We present the results of surveys to determine student perceptions of the extent to which their in-classroom courses prepared them for field school, conducted among students who completed field school without prior exposure to the Geoscience Garden, and contrast the results with those from students who completed field school after the installation of the garden and its incorporation in the teaching program. We conclude with some retrospective comments aimed at others contemplating similar installations.

FIELD TEACHING IN EARTH SCIENCE

Importance of Field Education

Earth Science is distinguished by its dependence on field data. Even in laboratory-based analytical studies, proper documentation of the field location and geologic context are vital for the correct interpretation of the analytical data. Hence, in the education of geology students, providing field experience is of paramount importance. This has been recognized since the early days of geology. Petrologist H.H. Read (1957) famously observed that ''the best geologist is he who has seen the most rocks.'' Read's words reflect the times in which he wrote: most of the geologists taught during his distinguished career at Imperial College, London, would have been men and would have entered geology expecting to see rocks while working outdoors on rugged landscapes, often in arduous conditions, for much of their careers.

More recent analyses (e.g., Orion et al., 1997; King, 2008) have noted particular spatial abilities acquired by geoscience students. These include understanding how three-dimensional (3D), but concealed, rock bodies interact with the more visible 3D surface of Earth and how those complex relationships change over geologic time. Mogk and Goodwin (2012) emphasize the immersive nature of the field environment, in which the observer is situated within the objects and structures being observed.

The demographics of typical Earth Science classes have also changed since the time of Read. Instructors can no longer assume that beginning students have experience hiking or working outdoors, and most introductory classes must engage a student population that has a range of fitness and physical agility more representative of the population as a whole (Wilson, 2014). The level of risk while working outdoors that is acceptable to teachers, students, and university administrators has declined (Fisher, 2001). Nonetheless, most teachers and professionals are in agreement that aspects of geologic practice and understanding can only be learned in the course of field mapping (Trifonov, 1984; Orion et al., 1997; Petcovic et al., 2014). As a result, organizations that define standards for the registration of geoscientists typically insist on field experience as a prerequisite for professional status (e. …

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