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Undergrad Research and Service Learning: Community-based research in the geosciences

By Dave Mogk, Montana State University, Bozeman

Service learning is a mode of instruction that directs course activities toward issues or problems of societal concern. Components of a successful service learning experience include a clear articulation of community needs, orientation and training of students, meaningful action, and reflection upon and evaluation of the activity. Service learning activities yield tremendous benefits to students, faculty, institutions and the community at large. The tenets of service learning, advice on how to design and implement a service learning project, and examples of service learning projects from across the geosciences have been more fully developed in the Starting Point module on Service Learning, and in the On the Cutting Edge module on Service Learning.

Components of a Service Learning Project

A well-designed service learning project includes:

A more complete description of Service Learning can be found in the Starting Point module on Service Learning, and in the On the Cutting Edge module on Service Learning.

An Example of a Research-Based Service Learning Project

Seismic Hazards in Southwestern Montana

Montana Earthquake Map. Credit: Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology

An introductory Environmental Geology class presented a public forum on Seismic Hazards in SW Montana, recognizing that their community was set dead center in the Rocky Mountain Seismic Belt. Small groups of students developed presentations on: Principles of Seismology; Lessons learned from Global Earthquakes; Geology of the Northern Rocky Mountains; Seismic History of Montana; Building Design Principles; Public Health Issues; Emergency Preparedness; Developing a Personal Plan. Students researched the literature, websites, and interviewed professional experts to obtain the best possible information to disseminate to the public. Details of this project can be found in Mogk, D., and King, 1995, Service Learning in Geoscience Classes, Journal of Geoscience Education, v. 43, p. 461. Although the students did not do de novo research in the sense of collecting new data, they did aggregate and organize a comprehensive amount of information from publications, web resources, and through interviews; they organized, prioritized, and synthesized this information and provided an important public service for the citizens of SW Montana.

Suggestions for Research-Focused Service Learning Projects

Given the breadth of research interests in the geosciences, you will see that there are abundant opportunities to apply geoscience research, knowledge and skills to undergraduate service learning projects.

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