Field-based instruction as part of a balanced geoscience curriculum at Washington and Lee University

submitted by

Elizabeth Knapp Washington and Lee University Geology Department
Author Profile

Initial Publication Date: November 5, 2004 | Reviewed: November 3, 2013
Our Geology department traditionally has had a strong field emphasis. We are striving to strike a balance in our curriculum. We emphasize geological skills, field observation and data collection, laboratory and analytical skills, computation and modeling, and scientific writing and presentation.
GSA Poster (PowerPoint 5.8MB Nov5 04)

Learning Goals

Exercise 1: GIS and mapping
Exercise 2: weathering process
Exercise 3: redox processes

Geologic Skills:
Exercise 1: collecting GPS data; learning compass use
Exercise 2: collecting sediments
Exercise 3: field sampling, sample processing

Higher Order Thinking Skills:
Exercise 1: Determining uncertainty, drawing conclusions
Exercise 2: developing research questions and hypotheses
Exercise 3: Drawing conclusions

Other Skills:
Exercise 1: GIS, field instruments
Exercise 2: scientific experimentation, collaboration, scientific writing
Exercise 3: analytical techniques, calculation and interpretation


Instructional Level:
Exercise 1: undergraduate entry level
Exercise 2 and 3: undergraduate major

Skills Needed:
In exercise 1 students are entering college students. They will have had exposure to a computer but are taught the other skills during the exercise;

In exercise 2 and 3 the students have had introductory geology.

Role of Activity in a Course:
Each of the exerices (1, 2, 3) are part of a multi-lab period exercise.

Data, Tools and Logistics

Required Tools:
Exercise 1: compass, GPS unit, GIS (Arcmap)
Exercise 2: basic laboratory consumables (flasks, DI water, acid, balance, etc.)
Exercise 3: furnace for adapted lab

Logistical Challenges:
Exercise 1: Students may be overwhelmed with the computer at first.


Evaluation Goals:
We attempt to balance skills across the curriculum. We want to know if our students are getting adequate exposure to the skills we try to teach.

Evaluation Techniques:
We do a skills matrix at the end of each course and a year-end departmental evaluation.


Learning in a hands-on field setting is the best way to reinforce topics learned in the classroom and to demonstrate the interrelationships of the science. We view fieldwork, however, as just the beginning of geoscience education. A crucial aspect of field geology is making observations and synthesizing the data collected. We attempt to make an integrated approach to our teaching. In the examples to follow we present a range of activities from our curriculum.