Assessing geoscience major learning objectives using a course-based undergraduate field research experience

Monday 4:30pm-6:00pm SERC Building - Atrium | Poster #32
Poster Session Part of Monday Poster Session


Phil Resor, Wesleyan University
Rachael Barlow, Wesleyan University
Tim Ku, Wesleyan University
Suzanne O'Connell, Wesleyan University
Dana Royer, Wesleyan University
Kim Diver, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor

A key question is how successful geoscience bachelor's degree programs are at building skills students require for future success. In Wesleyan University's Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences (E&ES) we created a novel course-based team-taught research capstone twenty years ago to help ensure that all students build a consistent set of skills.

Our primarily undergraduate department includes 7-8 faculty and graduates ~15 BA students and 2-3 MA students annually. The capstone experience has been a requirement for the E&ES major since 2005. In this capstone, student groups develop and present original research proposals during the fall semester. They then collectively gather data for each project on a multiday January fieldtrip. Finally, they analyze their data and deliver oral and written summaries of their results in the spring semester.

Since 2021 we have surveyed students and alumni to understand better student experience in the major and achievement of learning goals. Seniors (n=29) appreciated being able to do research from start to finish, hone presentation skills, and feel part of a community. However, some also noted redundancy with skills they developed in previous courses or independent research. Seniors (n=27) reported achievement in many department learning goals: conducting research (26%), understanding earth systems (19%), reading primary literature (15%), and communicating results (15%). Alumni (n=78) described the capstone course as one of the most memorable experiences of their college career: 87% indicated that it gave them skills they have used since graduation and 92% liked the course because it let them conduct research alongside classmates. Despite these positive survey results, the capstone receives lower than average student evaluations. We propose that these conflicting results might reflect student's negative perception of learning in the face of high cognitive load associated with original research tasks.

Presentation Media

Poster for Resor et al. (Acrobat (PDF) 3.3MB Jul16 24)