Designing a sedimentary geology course around field-based class projects that yield publishable research
Field-based research projects can be the heart of a course in sedimentary geology. Course content, organization, readings and laboratory experiences are dictated by the nature of the specific project. Less content may be "covered" with this approach, but students' depth of understanding, sense of accomplishment, and growth in confidence are greatly enhanced. Scientific reasoning skills, which are generally not addressed in the traditional lecture/lab format, increase noticeably. Using this approach, 50% of class projects over 4 years were of sufficient merit to present at regional GSA conferences.
I have used field-based research projects as the focal point for my undergraduate course in Sedimentary Geology (required course for geology majors (typically juniors and seniors, 4-12 students per semester)) with great success. This course addresses the major aspects of sedimentary geology (e.g., stratigraphy and sedimentology), but the emphasis changes from year to year depending on the nature of the field project. In some years, the focus has clearly been on sedimentology (with some elements of sedimentary petrology) and in other years, the field project has necessitated a greater emphasis on stratigraphic principles and practices. The course is offered in the fall semester to take advantage of the weather for field work. In addition to this course, I have also designed graduate courses in Advanced Stratigraphy and Advanced Sedimentology with a similar approach.
Skills and concepts that students must have mastered
How the activity is situated in the course
Content/concepts goals for this activity
Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity
Other skills goals for this activity
Description of the activity/assignment
Field projects must be chosen carefully so that they a) have the potential to yield results of scientific significance, and b) can be completed within the time-frame of one semester. In addition, it is essential to provide students with experiences that enable them to develop the expertise necessary to gather and make sense of the data. To ensure these conditions, the faculty member should be involved actively as a collaborator in the project. Therefore it is mutually beneficial if the class project is related to the faculty member's research or to a topic of interest to him/her. Guidelines for the development of successful projects are available in the Instructor's Notes file.
Determining whether students have met the goals
Description/observation comprises approximately 50% of the grade. This is based largely on the completeness and level of detail of descriptions (I emphasize to the students that interpretations change, but a good description lasts forever.). Because I am in the field weekly with the students, I know what features they should be reporting and can judge how complete/detailed their descriptions are. A portion of this category also includes the actual presentation of the data, typically in the form of one or more measured sections. Neatness and clarity of presentation factor into the evaluation.
Interpretation comprises approximately 25% of the grade. Two criteria are used to evaluate interpretations: a) are the interpretations consistent with the observations? and b) are they geologically reasonable? About one quarter of the grade is based on justification. Here the students are required to support their interpretations with specific data/observations. Commonly, the interpretation and justification components are intertwined in student reports and so they may be evaluated jointly rather than as separate categories. Because this evaluation is somewhat subjective, I assign letter rather than numerical grades.
Teaching materials and tips
- Syllabus for Ebert's project-based course with authentic field research (Microsoft Word 94kB Jun26 06)
- Annotated Bibliography of Literature on Projects in Sedimentary Geology Courses (Microsoft Word 33kB Jun26 06)
An Annotated Bibliography of References Concerning Projects
in Sedimentology/Stratigraphy Classes (download this information in a Word file) (Microsoft Word 33kB Jun26 06)
James R. Ebert
Earth Sciences Department
SUNY College at Oneonta
Oneonta, New York 13820-4015
(607) 436-3065; Ebertjr@oneonta.edu
Drzewiecki, P.A., and Hyatt, J.A., 2005, Teaching sedimentological and stratigraphic concepts using outcrops from the Hartford Basin, Connecticut: GSA Abstracts with Programs, v. 37, n. 1, p. 20-21. (Small projects illustrate lateral facies change, cyclicity, etc. in the field.)
Eves, R.L., and Lohrengel, C. F., II, 2003, Local stratigraphy: a resource for a problem-based undergraduate sedimentology/stratigraphy laboratory: GSA Abstracts with Programs, v. 35, n. 6, p. 46. (Includes presentation of select projects at regional meetings.)
Garver, J.I., 1992, A field-based course in stratigraphy and sedimentology, Jour. Geol. Education, v. 40, n. 2, p. 119-124. (The only full length paper that I could find on the subject! It describes a course in which students gather data in the field from a variety of depositional environments and rocks of various ages and use these data to reconstruct regional tectonic history. Definitely worth a read!)
Glumac, B., 2005, Designing a field-oriented and project-based undergraduate sedimentology and stratigraphy course: GSA Abstracts with Programs, v. 37, n. 1, p. 20. (Describes a project-based course with a modular structure. Elaborates on Glumac 1999.)
Glumac, B., 1999, A project-based undergraduate sedimentology course: GSA Abstracts with Programs, v. 31, n. 7, p. 36. (Describes a project-based course with a modular structure.)
Hickson, T.A., 2004, One-hundred percent project-based learning in a sedimentology and stratigraphy course: GSA Abstracts with Programs: v. 36, n. 5, p. 277. (Outlines a project-based course with active learning strategies incorporated.)
Knight, K.L., 1989, Undergraduate sedimentology project; point bar field study and computer analysis: GSA Abstracts with Programs, v. 21, n. 6, p. 369.
Lohrengel, C. F., II and Eves, R.L., 2005, Incorporating undergraduate research in the curriculum; using local stratigraphy as a resource for a project-based undergraduate sedimentology/stratigraphy laboratory: GSA Abstracts with Programs, v. 37, n. 6, p. 38. (Includes presentation of select projects at regional meetings. Repeats much of Eves and Lohrengel 2003.)
O'Connell, S., 2004, Modern-ancient comparison as the focus for a first course in sedimentology: GSA Abstracts with Programs, v. 36, n. 5, p. 164. (Field studies in Mesozoic and similar modern sedimentary environments model a comparative sedimentology approach.)
Ryberg, P.T., 2000, Utilizing state-of-the-art field equipment in project-oriented curriculum at an undergraduate geoscience department; examples from Clarion University: GSA Abstracts with Programs, v. 32, n. 7, p. 421. (Describes use of various types of equipment for field projects in multiple courses, including Stratigraphy.)
Sebastian, G.R., and Haywick, D.W., 2004, One outcrop, two possible interpretations; using field work to teach geological reasoning: GSA Abstracts with Programs, v. 36, n. 5, p. 155. (Small, directed field projects are used to build skills which are then employed to test two competing hypotheses with data collected in the field.)