Design and Components of a Two-Year College Interdisciplinary Field-Study Course
Wolfe, Benjamin A., Martin, Todd C., Journal of College Science Teaching
The teaching and learning of introductory science education at 2-year colleges has many challenges. These challenges include matriculating few students with science-related interests or majors; difficulty in finding effective, exciting, and engaging ways for faculty to teach basic scientific principles; and students having negative, preconceived notions of science and low motivation in becoming engaged with science (Gilbert et al., 2012). Incorporating interdisciplinary field studies--which can include field trips, field-oriented activities, and field-based courses--in an introductory science curriculum can be a key component to making the sciences stimulating and engaging (Ambers, 2005; Kern & Carpenter, 1984).
In brief, interdisciplinary study "draws insights from relevant disciplines and integrates those insights into a more comprehensive understanding" (Newell, 2001, p. 2). Furthermore, interdisciplinary field-study course curricula incorporate multiple science discipline topics and serve to illustrate the cross-disciplinary nature of science. The effectiveness of field-study courses on improved student learning outcomes and comprehension is well-documented (Boyle et al., 2007; Elkins & Elkins, 2007; Whitmeyer, Mogk, & Pyle, 2009). Research studies have shown that field-study courses can have positive effects on students' values, interest, and attitudes (Boyle et al., 2007; Stokes & Boyle, 2009). Field studies for science majors at 4-year schools are often incorporated into the curriculum (e.g., Knapp, Greer, Connors, & Harbor, 2006), and some degree programs--such as geology at most 4-year colleges--require a field-study component for the bachelor's degree (Drummond & Markin, 2008). Although the effectiveness of field-study courses has been studied at 4-year institutions (Anderson & Miskimins, 2006; Knapp et al., 2006; LaSage, Jones, & Edwards, 2006) and on upper level students majoring in science disciplines (Ambers, 2005; Feig, 2010), the effects of interdisciplinary field-study courses have been less frequently reported at 2-year colleges. To address this gap in the literature, this manuscript (a) describes an interdisciplinary field-study course taught at a 2-year college and (b) provides students' perceived value of this course captured using a survey.
Theoretical framework for the interdisciplinary course curriculum
The interdisciplinary curriculum of the course is intended to link Earth sciences and life sciences using a constructivist-based, theoretical-learning framework of cognitive gains and metacognitive gains (Mogk & Goodwin, 2012). In brief, the cognitive domain encompasses both acquisition of knowledge and the tasks of comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. The field-study curriculum is designed to include experiences that involve higher order thinking skills, such as synthesizing, evaluating, and communicating, enabling students to put into practice scientific inquiry (observe, hypothesize, test, and modify the hypothesis as needed). To promote an active and engaging learning atmosphere, field-study activities are designed to give students the opportunity to practice science in a hands-on environment. Students actually "do" science, which facilitates learning science and refines observation skills beyond a set of laboratory exercises and classroom lectures. Activities are inquiry based, and students are encouraged to ask questions, develop hypotheses, and make observations to find the answers to their questions.
[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]
This theoretical framework couples the cognitive domain with the metacognitive domain. Here, meta-cognition involves being aware of one's thinking, learning, reasoning, and problem-solving strategies (Mogk & Goodwin, 2012). According to Mogk and Goodwin (2012), the field curriculum is designed to use meta-cognition as a means for students to develop critical-thinking skills and apply self-awareness of learning in self-direction of daily tasks, monitoring their own progress and adapting to changing conditions. …