The Pet Rock Project, a course-embedded research project in undergraduate geoscience education: introduction to research, development of communication skills and means of programmatic assessment

Thursday 4:30pm-5:30pm Red Gym
Poster Session


Darrell Henry, Louisiana State University
The Pet Rock Project, a course-embedded research project, in the junior-level Igneous and Metamorphic Petrology course at LSU has been a successful vehicle to provide all undergraduate geology students with a controlled research experience since 1996. The rubrics developed for assessment of individual students on this project have been repurposed to examine the level of attainment of the communication learning outcome associated with the BS degree program at LSU.

The Pet Rock Project is a nearly semester-long project in which each student (or small group) is assigned a sample and follows the steps a petrologist would take to analyze and interpret a rock from a known area. After preliminary input from the instructor, each student presents the revised results of this study in a written form comparable to a professional petrology journal and in an oral form comparable to that given at a professional geology meeting. The limited scope of the embedded research project, a single sample from a geologically restricted area, provides the entire group of students with a similar research experience i.e. common geologic background and imaging/analytical tools. Consequently, this has engendered wide-ranging student-student discussion on many, often open-ended, topics. The acquisition of the data by the students creates an ownership that augments the experience. Since 2005, when this class was certified as communications intensive, the student experience has been further enhanced. A clear set of guidelines for writing a geology (petrology) paper was generated. Rubrics have been established for the written as well as the oral presentations – about half related to content and half related to presentation skills. With these guidelines and rubrics available to the students there is a clear establishment of expectations. In addition, the well-defined scoring rubrics allowed a clear means to assess the individual student scores on these portions of the course.