Initial Publication Date: May 14, 2012

Using Geophysical Field Studies as the Focus for Problem-Based Learning (PBL) in an Introductory Geophysics Course

Paul Kelso, Geology and Physics Departments, Lake Superior State University.

This page is a supplement to the original course description found here

Short description of the course:

Using field geophysics projects as the focus of problem based learning activities in an introductory geophysics course provides students with the opportunity to work and think as geophysicists. Students are involved in all aspects of the projects including designing and conducting the field surveys, processing and modeling the field data and interpreting and presenting the results. These projects can be either a capstone experience or the focus of the entire course (as they are at Lake Superior State University).

Design Philosophy: How is teaching the methods of geoscience integrated into the course?

This course is designed so students function as geophysicist while learning geophysics. The entire course is project centered and students are tasked with solving real geophysical questions. The problem is presented to the students as it might be by a company to a geophysical consulting firm. The student teams research background information on the site and then make a proposal of how to address the company's question, including which methods they would use and why and what they expect the results of the study to reveal and models of likely geophysical anomalies based on potential source characteristics. Students then discuss the strengths of various proposals and decide on the optimum survey instruments and survey design. Then as a consulting company would, they carry out the field study setting up the survey lines, collecting data with the chosen instruments. The field component is critical as students learn the complexities of the real world and potential issues with instrumentation, data collection and sources of error. This collected data is then uploaded to computers where the data is processed, modeled and interpreted. Finally students present written and oral reports as the consulting company might do to business or organization requesting the survey.

Students who have completed this course have undertaken multiple studies from beginning to end, they know the processes and potential pitfalls and limitations of conducting a geophysical study. Through this course students have worked as they might if they were employed by a geophysical consulting company. Students learn by doing.

Key Activities: How do these activities address teaching the methods of geoscience?

The course projects are explained in general in the description of the activity on the course website and in detail for different components of one project in the course supplemental materials. Student's interest in solving the questions asked motivates them to learn and apply key concepts and to spend the time necessary to answer the questions asked.

Assessment: How are the methods of geoscience assessed?

Students are asked on the final exam how they would solve a variety of different geoscience problems, each with a geophysical component. By this time students have completed a number of different of geophysical studies. During the exam students don't have to conduct the survey but they have to explain what they would do and why. Thus students must demonstrate an understanding of the methods of geoscience.