Collaborative Research Project: Geoscience Undergraduate Curricula

Barbara Bekken, Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech, Geosciences
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In this 2011 collaborative research project, students investigated the geoscience curricula at 37 of VT's peer institutions using scientific methods of data acquisition and analysis. Each student was responsible for researching one peer institution against twelve criteria and then recording their findings in a shared google-docs spreadsheet. Thereafter, student teams were assigned to one of the twelve criteria. Each team used the information in the spreadsheet as well as other sources to describe, compare and contrast peer institution curricula with that of VT. Thereafter, their results were written formally and presented orally to VT faculty.

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Learning Goals

Concepts conveyed through this activity: Collaborative team skills, data analysis and synthesis, information searching and evaluation, formal communication (written, visual/graphical, oral).

Methods of Geoscience

The activity uses both descriptive and experimental methods to gather information pertinent to the research problem. Each year, the focus problem changes, and this past year, the students addressed curriculum design, but in doing so, they not only gathered data at peer institutions, they gathered and evaluated responses to VTs curriculum. These two methods, one descriptive, the second, hypothesis driven, showed them how these various methods can be applied to any problem.

Context for Use

This project was supported over ten weeks and involved many steps, the documentation of which is only partially represented herein. This project was designed to use the methods of science by carrying out a research project. The topic of the research project was deliberately "simple", e.g., curricular design. The topic was authentic because our department is considering a complete overhaul of our undergraduate degree requirements. This topic was ideal because not only was the topic pertinent and authenticate, but literature informing it was not easily accessed using a search engine such as GeoRef. Further, it required that students struggle a bit with how to compare, contrast and synthesize challenging data sets from diverse sources.

Description and Teaching Materials

GeoFun Project Introduction 2011 (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 23kB May11 12)
GeoFun Project Written Report Rubric 2011 (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 21kB May11 12)
GeoFun Project Presentation Rubric 2011 (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 21kB May11 12)
GeoFun Project Sample Excel Data Sheet 2011 (Excel 115kB May11 12)

Teaching Notes and Tips

The topic of this 10-week-long project changes annually but the approach to collecting and sharing data as well as writing collaboratively does not change.


The assessment is based on the criteria in the written and oral rubrics, which tie directly back to the course goals.

References and Resources