Using Geophysical Field Studies as the Focus for Problem-Based Learning (PBL) in an Introductory Geophysics Course

Paul Kelso
Lake Superior State University
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Using field geophysics projects as the focus of problem based learning activities in an introductory geophysics course provides students with the opportunity to work and think as geophysicists. Students are involved in all aspects of the projects including designing and conducting the field surveys, processing and modeling the field data and interpreting and presenting the results. These projects can be either a capstone experience or the focus of the entire course(as they are at Lake Superior State Univeristy).

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Geophysics course for junior and senior geology majors
Designed for a geophysics course

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students are upper division geology majors with previous field geology experience.

How the activity is situated in the course

This project may start as early as week one or two in students' first geophysics course or may occur as a capstone experience later in the semester. My geophysics course is primarily a project-centered course. Thus its focuses is real world questions not classroom or lab demonstration or provided data sets.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Students learn geophysics in the context of questions of potential personal and community concern.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Students design a survey evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of different geophysical techniques and survey designs. Students interpret geophysical data. Students must integrate multiple geophysical data sets, combined with modeled anomalies and field observations to construct their final interpretation.

Other skills goals for this activity

Communication skills (written and oral), quantitative skills, computer skills, modeling skills, team work skills, operating technical field equipment, independent learning

Description of the activity/assignment

Below is just one example of the field based problems that my class has undertaken. We undertake a number of other projects that are described briefly in the attached document. I provide students similar documentation for the other projects.
Attached are the following documents:
1) Project proposal (containing: over of potential types of projects, proposal requirements, survey design considerations, project background material and outline of project)
2) Conducting the field surveys
3) Final project (and possible variations)

Students conduct a field geophysical study on the Lake Superior State University campus that was a U.S. military camp in the 1950's and 1960's. There are concerns as to whether the military left anything buried behind such as underground storage tanks, unexploded ordinances, buried drums, etc. The study area is the likely location of the next campus housing building. After undertaking this study we were contacted by the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to see our results which students presented to them. The US Army Corps of Engineers and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality are now using our results as they examine what might have been left behind at the facility. Students were excited about undertaking a "real study" answering an important question where the results were unknown to anyone a head of time.

Overview of project design

1) a. Students design the geophysical survey (written and oral presentation) including which instruments to use and why, what are the survey characteristics (I provide guidelines for survey time constraints)
b. Students must create models of expected anomalies for each of the different instruments proposed
c. Students discuss and debate the merits of the various proposed geophysical techniques and survey characteristics
2) Students carry out the field geophysical survey as teams
3) Students use computers to process, display, model and interpret the geophysical data they collect
4) Students present results of the study both orally and in a written form (e.g., technical report, scientific paper, scientific poster, etc. depending on year and other projects)

Addresses student fear of quantitative aspect and/or inadequate quantitative skills

Determining whether students have met the goals

Student evaluations include:
project proposal (written and oral)
interim reports final report(written and oral)including:
data processing

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Teaching materials and tips

Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs

This course has supplemental information submitted as part of the InTeGrate Teaching the Methods of Geoscience workshop in June 2012.