Structural Concepts in an Introductory Field Geology Course

Christie Rowe, McGill
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I designed a course at McGill called Geology in the Field for incoming first and second year students who have never had a geology class before as a gateway to the major, and for students in complimentary fields (archeology, environmental science/studies, ecology). I was inspired by Hilde Schwartz (UCSC)'s Elements of Field Geology course for senior students, and by John Brady (Smith College)'s Geology in the Field, a first-year course. Scheduling constraints in our major mean that the students can't take structural geology before their first 2-week mapping course, so Geology in the Field must introduce enough structural concepts to enable students to learn to map. I emphasize observation, conventions for recording and using field data, question forming, teamwork, writing with cold hands, bringing enough water, helping your friends, describing a few rocks (but not all of them), distinguishing between primary and deformation structures, and having fun. The class is intentionally not hard.

Our first class meeting involves a walk across campus to a roadcut of bedded limestone cut by basalt dykes, where the students begin their field notebooks by attempting their first rock description. By the end of the afternoon, they are usually arguing with each other over whether a dyke intrudes a joint or a fault, or whether some discoloration on the limestone is due to surficial weathering or contact metasomatism. They don't really know what these words mean yet but they are able to appreciate that the answers to these questions affect the whole story of the history of the rock. It is my hope that by demonstrating the value first, and in the field, the students will be more engaged when their future courses explain these concepts in more rigorous detail.
The course has run 3 times. So far we have 100% retention in the major and some students have added a minor in geology after taking the course, so I think it is potentially supporting recruitment into our programs. I don't know whether the performance at summer field has changed since the course was instituted, the students say that it helped them feel more prepared.

Session

Teaching Structural Geology and Tectonics
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