Initial Publication Date: May 7, 2012

Geospatial and geosocial education

Declan G. De Paor, Department of Physics, Old Dominion University,

The following were my undergraduate courses at University College Dublin, Ireland:

1969-70, 1st Year: geology, mathematics, physics, mathematical physics,
1970-71, 2nd Year: geology, mathematics, physics,
1971-72, 3rd Year: geology, mathematics,
1972-73, 4th Year: geology.

Of course, chemistry and biology were on offer, however in 1st year each required two afternoon labs whereas physics had one long lab and geology ran morning labs plus weekend field trips. I thus had four afternoons free for student life (protest marches, etc.)
After classes started, my motivation for studying geology changed from convenience to interest thanks to Dr. Pádraigh Kennan's lectures. Before class, he painstakingly covering blackboards with legible handwriting and multicolored chalk illustrations that shared the destiny of sand mandalas. I think we concentrated harder knowing his wisdom was about to be erased forever. Everything I learned in geology was new whereas physics and mathematics classes regurgitated the secondary school curriculum. Department Chair, Prof. Brindley, didn't permit the teaching of plate tectonics but our lecturers would meet us in the campus bar and subversively report on the unfolding geoscientific revolution (I particularly remember a demonstration of lithospheric thinning using Guinness froth). The geology program included many field trips and often we ended up in a pub discussing the day's work with instructors (or singing rugby songs, or both). The social aspect was central to our learning; there was no continuous assessment, but we studied in order to hold our own in these discussions. Geology labs also involved collaborative learning. Long before physicists designed SCALE-UP, we gathered around specimen boxes or maps and exchanged observations peer-to-peer.

For my senior thesis, I mapped a contact aureole whilst my physics friends measured tracks in a Wilson Chamber. They weren't sure mapping was 'real' science and liked to quip that science was either physics or stamp collecting. But they envied geo students.