Initial Publication Date: August 23, 2012

Essential Topics in Hydrogeology

This page is a summary of an article titled Teaching hydrogeology: a review of current practice, Gleeson, et al., Hydrology and Earth System Science, 16, 2159-2168, 2012

Determining the Essential Topics in Hydrogeology

Hydrogeology is now taught in a wide range of departments at a variety of institutions to students with diverse backgrounds. Successful instruction in hydrogeology thus requires a variety of pedagogical approaches which depend on desired learning outcomes and the background of students.

A recent study titled Teaching hydrogeology: a review of current practice (Gleeson, et al., 2012) reviewed pedagogical literature in hydrogeology to highlight recent advances in teaching methods and analyzed a survey of hydrogeology instructors that attended the 2005 Cutting Edge Hydrogeology Workshop. The literature and survey results suggest there are only about 15 topics that are considered essential by most hydrogeologists and more than 100 other topics that are considered important by some hydrogeologists. The essential topics focus on properties of aquifers and fundamentals of groundwater flow, and should likely be part of the undergraduate hydrogeology curriculum. Other topics can supplement and support these top 15 topics, depending on desired learning outcomes.

Jump down to Historical Review | Results from 2005 Survey | Pedagogical Approaches

Historical Review

Recent pedagogical advances are biased towards field and laboratory instruction with a goal of bolstering experiential learning. Articles in the Journal of Geological Education (pre-1996) or Journal of Geoscience Education (post-1996) show this trend of increasing emphasis on laboratory and field methods (Figure 1).

Results from 2005 Survey

In 2005, a survey was conducted among hydrogeology instructors (n = 68) prior to the 2005 Cutting Edge Hydrogeology Workshop. Instructors were asked what topics should be included in an undergraduate hydrogeology course. Results show that while over a hundred topics were identified as being important to teach about in hydrogeology courses, only about 15 topics are considered crucial by most hydrogeologists (Figure 2). This wide range of topics outside the 15 essential topics suggests that faculty agree that there are many topics that could be covered in a hydrogeology course, leaving individual instructors to choose additional topics according to their own priorities and interests.

Figure 3 shows the top fifteen most important topics for an undergraduate hydrogeology course according to the survey. Greater than 90% of those surveyed indicated that hydraulic conductivity/intrinsic permeability, Darcy's law, aquifers, water table, gradient and head, water table, hydraulic head, and specific head and storativity were crucial to teach in a hydrogeology course. A graphic compilation of all topics on the survey can be found in a Supplementary Figure or raw data can be found in this Excel spreadsheet of results of the 2005 faculty survey on what textbooks and lab manuals are used and what topics are taught in hydrogeology courses (Excel 34kB Jul24 05)

Pedagogical Approaches

The literature suggests curricula at all levels should ideally balance field, laboratory, and classroom pedagogy into an iterative and integrative whole (Figure 4). Classroom settings continue to provide a venue for emphasizing fundamental knowledge. Field methods build on the fundamentals taught in the classroom and emphasize the collection of data, data uncertainty, and the development of vocational skills. Laboratory and computer-based exercises similarly build on theory, and offer an opportunity for data analysis and integration. An integrated, iterative and balanced approach leads to greater student motivation and advancement of theoretical and vocational knowledge.

The elements of an integrated hydrogeology pedagogy can be balanced in an iterative loop so that each element supports other elements.

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