A Structure for Mastering Stereonets for Structural Geology

Katherine Boggs, Mount Royal University

Student voice, exam marks and participant reported confidence levels were used here to propose a model for guiding novice student acquisition of the spatial cognition skills for conquering the stereonet while solving Structural Geology problems. This model includes: 1) an introduction to conceptual knowledge, 2) learn skills in an accretive manner, 3) use stereonet to solve different problems, 4) collaborate with peers, and 5) use stereonet to construct geoscience schematic models. While these steps are used in many Structural Geology courses, the validity of this approach is established from the student perspective.

Eleven students from an Introduction to Structural Geology course (taught in second year at Mount Royal University, a public Canadian undergraduate university) participated in this study. Exam marks over a four year period (class averages for specific questions (CA)) and participant reported confidence levels (RPL; 5.0 = high confidence to 1.0 = no confidence) on stereonet skills were used to establish basic (CA>80%; RPL 4.4 to 4.8), intermediate (CA 79.9 to 60%; RPL 3.4 to 3.9), and advanced (CA<60%; RPL 3.6) stereonet problem skill levels (model step #2). Basic skills are those that involve plotting 2-3 planar or linear features, intermediate skills involve some conceptual knowledge, and advanced skills involve rotation about non-vertical axes.

Participants ranked the usefulness of instructional techniques ((5.0) most helpful to (1.0) not helpful). "Hands-on" techniques such as class exercises (4.6), lab problems (4.7), old exam/quiz problems (4.6) and group work (4.4) were ranked above 4.0. Participants recognized the value of model steps #2, #3, and #4. Lectures (3.8) and explanations by the instructor (3.8) were ranked between 4.0 and 3.0. These responses supported model steps #2 and #3 (ranked lower than step #4). Interactions with the text were ranked below 3.0, including extra problems from the text (2.8) and reading the text (2.5). It is possible that participants reported what they perceived as being helpful for passing this challenging course (i.e. old exam/quiz problems more helpful than extra problems from the text), not recognizing the importance of step #1 (i.e. reading the textbook). Surprisingly, responses to open ended questions about participant learning experiences implied a gradual acquisition of the concepts, not the expected transformative moments (as per multiple observed experiences in the classroom).