Case Study Approach to Teaching Introductory Physical Geology

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


Dan Olson, Edgewood College
Amy Schiebel, Edgewood College

In fall of 2015 we completely reworked our introductory physical geology course for non-majors. Our goals were to:

  • Engage the students more meaningfully with the material.
  • Help students to see the relationships between the earth sciences and major issues affecting them today.
  • Understand the nature of science.
  • Examine current issues through an earth science lens.
  • Increase student daily attendance and performance on exams.
  • Include all traditional physical geology course content.

Five extended case studies that focused on current geoscience issues were developed for their ability to create a framework through which basic physical geology content could be introduced and reinforced over the course of the semester. Three of the cases require groups of students to take on the role of a particular stakeholder in the issue allowing students to learn the science content as well as make societal connections.

The course has been run using case studies in two different formats. During the fall semester it is taught using a straightforward lecture lab format with three, one-hour lectures and one, two-hour laboratory session per week. In the spring semester, that same course is taught in a workshop format meeting twice a week in three-hour blocks. Pros and cons of each will be discussed. Assessment of the course indicates that progress was made towards reaching all six of the stated goals.
A general overview of the course will align the earth science content objectives with individual case studies. Two of the case studies will be presented in detail.