Geological Field Research; an Ideal Course 'Recipe' for Advanced Undergraduate and Beginning Graduate Students

Yvette Kuiper, Colorado School of Mines

A Geological Field Research course is an excellent way for students to learn to design and carry out their own (field-based) research. The course is set up in three parts. In the first part, students write a brief research proposal including hypotheses, tests and a work plan for the next two weeks. We study appropriate literature and take an introductory field trip to the field area. The second week focuses on field work. In the third week, students prepare a geological map and appropriate cross sections, and a report presenting rock descriptions, structural analysis, a geological history, and interpretation of results in the context of the hypotheses posed in the proposal. The course can be taught in three weeks as a three-credit course, where each part described above takes one week. It can easily be modified into a longer (but not shorter) course, and/or one that is taught over several weekends and a number of weekday in-class meetings during the semester.

Students gain experience in geological mapping and field methods in general, but, perhaps more importantly, they learn how to formulate a testable hypothesis, carry out the research and write a concise and clear report. They also read each other's proposals, and give each other constructive feedback through a mock NSF panel discussion. Furthermore, they learn how to deal with field logistics and to collaborate with their field partners. The effectiveness of the course can (on top of the student deliverables and course evaluations) be assessed through course-specific questionnaires at the beginning and the end of the course to monitor students' skills, expectations, goals and confidence.

The Geological Field Research course is ideal for students who will be conducting thesis research involving a significant structural mapping component. Especially students who will be conducting (thesis) research in the area where the course is taught will be well prepared. Furthermore, the course is an excellent way for the instructor to learn more about the field area. This is in particular useful for faculty trying to start new research projects in an area they are not fully familiar with. Thus, the course serves both students and instructors well, not only because of the learning and teaching experience, but also by possibly enhancing their research.