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David Mogk

Department of Earth Sciences, Montana State University

David Mogk

Essay 1: Teaching in the Field

"We're going on a field trip!" the instructor announces enthusiastically to the class, expecting that all students will share this enthusiasm. Field trips are part of the culture of the geosciences and of geoscience education, and much of what we see and do on a field trip is second nature to us. We know what to expect during the trip, what is expected of us, how to function (and behave), and how we will benefit from the experience. But, what is going through the minds of our students: Where the heck are we going? What are we going to do there? I've never done anything like this before, and I'm very unsure about what I have to do. Will we have to hike a long way, will I be able to keep up? What about the weather, will we go if it rains? I'm terrified of snakes! What about bathroom stops? Will we eat on time? I have hypoglycemia/diabetes and really need to regulate when and what I eat. Will we be back in time for me to pick up my kids at day care? I still don't understand how to use a Brunton compass and what it does. What do we have to turn in for credit, and how will it be graded? Facing all of this anxiety and uncertainty, how can learning possibly happen? Following the work of Orion and Hofstein (1994), learning cannot effectively happen until a student's "novelty space" is minimized. There are three aspects of novelty space that must be considered when planning and implementing a field exercise:

The larger a student's novelty space, the less the student is likely to learn. Therefore, these factors should be carefully considered when planning an implementing a field trip to optimize student learning in the field. Mogk (1997; and further discussed the concept of novelty space, and related issues of setting appropriate goals, objectives and outcomes for learning in the field. Field trips are often cited as an important means to recruit and motivate students to learn geoscience–but this will be true only to the extent the field trips are memorable and positive learning experiences.


Orion, N., and Hofstein, A. (1994), Factors that influence learning during a scientific field trip in a natural environment. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 31(10), 1097-1119.

Mogk, D. W., (1997), Field Notes, In: Brady, Perkins and Mogk (eds.), Teaching Mineralogy, Mineralogical Society of America

Essay 2: Learning Environments - Designing a Computer Laboratory

Co-authored with William Locke, Dept. of Earth Sciences, Montana State University

Our department had the opportunity to add computer stations to our Introductory Physical Geology laboratory. In planning for the installation of the computers, we had to make informed decisions about the design of the laboratory. Would the computers be installed on desks in rows looking to the front of the class, in "islands" (e.g. using hexagonal tables), arranged around the perimeter of the room...? Our final design is pictured below. Here's how we selected the design for this laboratory:

diagram of a computer classroom setup

This room configuration gave us the most flexibility to accommodate a variety of instructional modes: lecture, discussion, demonstration, independent and small group work on the computers, integration of computer-based and physical resources, and ability to form small groups of 2 or 4 for collaborative learning. This also helps the instructor to be aware of what students are actually doing during lab time, and facilitates rapid interventions if students appear lost or distracted. We have used this room configuration for the past 8 years with no significant need to modify or reconfigure. Although we have done no formal assessment of student attitudes about this set up, the students appear to work well in this environment. The design has withstood the test of time.

An excellent resource on designing Learning Spaces was produced by Project Kaleidoscope, What Works Volume III: Structures for Science, A Handbook on Planning Facilities for Undergraduate Natural Science Communities. "This step-by-step guide to planning facilities is intended for use by colleges and universities that are thinking about, or in the process of planning for, new or renovated spaces for their undergraduate programs in science and mathematics." See:

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