Course-Based Research Projects

Thursday 3:00pm-4:15pm REC Center Large Ice Overlook Room
Oral Session

Session Chairs

Suki Smaglik, Laramie County Community College
Paul Kelso, Lake Superior State University

Classroom-based research projects as an alternative to traditional learning
Kevin Spigel, Unity College

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Traditional weekly lab assignments are replaced with student-centered, semester-long research projects in advanced courses in the Earth and Environmental Science Program at Unity College. Many of these research projects are conducted under the auspices of service learning for the benefit of the local community including municipal organizations and conservation groups. Examples of past projects include "The Effects of Precipitation on Streamflow and Groundwater Levels", "Landuse Impacts on Runoff and Soil Erosion", "A Hydrogeological Investigation of the Unity Wastewater Lagoon Site", and "A Paleoenvironmental Reconstruction for Lake Winnecook Using Multiple Sediment Proxies". Some projects evolve into continued studies as individual research projects performed outside of the classroom. Student learning outcomes are met through intensive field and laboratory investigations, quantitative analysis and data interpretation, spatial analysis using GIS, and dissemination of results at college research conferences and regional professional society meetings. Successful class research projects require significant pre-semester planning to identify potential community partners and discuss their needs; determine site location, perform preliminary study design, coordinate logistics, and engage with labs regarding sample submission (e.g. some chemical testing, radiocarbon ages, etc.) timelines; and organize the presentation of results. Approximately 50% of class lecture/lab time, arranged in long blocks, is reserved for the introduction of content applicable to the project as well as a review of methodologies and final project planning. Remaining time is reserved specifically for small student working groups to conduct field and lab work, perform data analysis and interpretation, report-out to peer groups, and format the final presentation (poster or slide presentation). Case-based examples highlighting the nature of the field and lab work involved are presented along with effective strategies for successful integration of research into the classroom.
A project-based geology curriculum at Lake Superior State University: an overview with examples
Paul Kelso, Lake Superior State University
Lewis Brown, Lake Superior State University

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We at Lake Superior State University designed an innovative undergraduate geology curriculum that is based on constructivist educational principles and emphasizes engagement of students in real-life projects. Students participate in active hands-on exercises that focus on acquisition of problem solving skills. Our curriculum encompasses a series of progressively more complex project-centered courses the focus of which is on key core concepts that we identified through a national survey of geoscience faculty. Upper division courses require integration of skill sets and sub-disciplinary content that are acquired and developed sequentially throughout the four planned years of the curriculum. Our Geophysical Systems and Tectonics Systems courses demonstrate the pedagogy and concept acquisition methodology that we advocate. Through these courses students learn and apply relevant concepts from multiple sub-disciplines while addressing real world geoscience problems. Two project examples are discussed. The first includes determination of the location, size, shape and depth of an old, abandoned landfill, located on tribal land, which is now eroding into a local creek. The students were involved in all parts of the project including designing and conducting the geophysical surveys, processing and interpreting the data and presenting the results to their peers and to tribal scientists. Students learn geophysics principles while addressing questions of concern to the community. The second example includes activities centered on a Tectonics Systems spring break field trip from Michigan to the southern Appalachian Mountains. Pre-trip activities include preparatory oral presentations and written summaries on different aspects of the Appalachian orogeny and associated processes. Students then integrate these studies plus their field notes and observations to produce a geologic field trip guide. This project requires students to integrate the stratigraphy, structure, and petrology with field observations and knowledge of tectonic processes to develop and communicate their understanding of a complex geologic system.
Enhanced Problem Solving Practice Aided by Computer Software Applications in Upper Division Geology Classes.
Marek Matyjasik, Weber State University

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Active learning encourages a deep understanding of the course material and helps developing conceptual thinking skills. I present my approach to active learning and problem solving in my two upper division courses Environmental Assessment and Engineering Geology. Both courses introduce relatively complex software at an early portion of both courses. Students use SlopeW software in the Engineering Geology class and Modflow/MT3D package in the Environmental Assessment class. Students become familiar with gradually more complex components of the software while they also work on their independent term paper research over the course of both classes. Students introduce and test several new concepts in various modules of the software. Multiple opportunities to practice familiar activities allow students to focus on problem solving rather than memorizing. The use of software also serves students as an honest verification of their skills and level of understanding of their newly acquired knowledge. Students receive an improved training in helping them to become lifelong learners and be competitive in a professional job market.