Learning Goals and Outcomes from Using GeoPads

An exercise on a given topic can be designed to address and produce any number of different learning goals and outcomes; hence, the formulation of GeoPad-enabled activities is heavily dependent on the learning goals and outcomes desired. For example, an exercise on geological mapping can strive to achieve a variety of goals and outcomes: if the ability to locate oneself on an aerial photo or topographic map through map-reading is a desired learning goal, then disabling GPS functionality on the GeoPad helps reinforce the development of visual location skills; if a high level of GIS competency is not an important outcome, then activities can treat the GIS software as a "black box" by simply providing students with pre-configured projects and relying on their intuitive familiarity with computers to minimize GIS-training requirements; if developing and manipulating a mental model of geological structures is a critical goal, then sufficient screen real-estate is required to enable simultaneously viewing sufficient extent and detail of observations and data; if experience with integrating supplemental data and geologic observations is a goal, then GIS can provide access and manipulation of ancillary data (magnetic surveys, geochemical anomalies, thin section images) in the same spatial context in which the observations are being gathered.

Things to consider when designing a GeoPad activity:

  • What are the goals of the activity?
  • What skills or knowledge are a pre-requisite for the activity?
  • Is a goal to reinforce certain skills or knowledge? Which ones and why?
  • What skills or knowledge are developed during the activity?
  • What are your evaluation criteria, or in other words, how do you assess the outcome of the activity in terms of using, reinforcing, or gaining the above skills and knowledge?
  • Do certain incorrect or unexpected outcomes for the activity provide insight into errors or misconceptions addressed in subsequent activities?
  • What is the type and level of course in which you use this activity or assignment (e.g., undergraduate required course in mineralogy, introductory physical geology course for non-majors, graduate level seminar)?
  • What are the skills and concepts that students must have mastered before beginning the activity?
  • How is this activity situated in your course (e.g., as a culminating project, as a stand-alone exercise, as part of a sequence of exercises)?
  • What are the content/concepts goals for this activity (e.g., using phase diagrams, understanding optical properties, accurate description of samples)?
  • What are the higher order thinking skills goals for this activity (e.g., those involving analysis of data, formulation of hypotheses, synthesis of ideas, critical evaluation of competing models, development of computer or analog models)?
  • Are there other skills goals for this activity (e.g., those involving writing, operating analytical equipment, searching the WWW, oral presentation, working in groups)?

Summary of Workshop Discussions

Based on the collective wisdom and practical experience of the workshop participants.
What are the possible learning goals and outcomes using GeoPads:
  • The tradeoffs need to be examined and weighed between traditional field skills and the use of GeoPads (i.e. looking at a computer screen vs. looking at the world around you).
  • We need a large scale study of pre- and post-tests of students working in the field using a variety of approaches and technologies.
  • Need to know what preparation students have had (content and skill mastery) as they come into a field setting...We can't always expect that they can even read a topographic map.
  • GeoPads can give you more access to information while in the field, which opens up whole new pathways towards decision-making and interpretation.
  • We need to minimize the barriers to using technology in the field; these may be psychological in part, may reflect resistance on the part of faculty.
  • Students will be gaining skills to do technical field tasks that are currently required by industry.
  • Recognize that it's a huge task to build GeoPad projects from the ground up; there are big barriers in finding data, getting all the data in compatible formats; a collection of prepared, model exercises is needed to help the entire community.
  • It's important to have a clear idea of who the student audience is, what is their background and training, what are the expectations in terms of what students need to know going into a project; what skills do we expect the students to develop; what are the expectations for learning outcomes?
  • The field is not a good place to teach technology; the more experience students get before they go to the field the better. You need to start students on projects before they go to the field, e.g. use pen to map features on air photos (impact structures, glacial features) for practice ahead of time in the field.
  • GeoPads were never envisioned to replace traditional field methods; need to do related exercises doing traditional mapping exercises, followed by use of GeoPads.
  • The vast majority of students will go into careers in industry where they will need to understand database management and be able to integrate databases; GeoPad training will help in this regard.
  • GeoPads can essentially do everything that is already done on paper maps, but with additional capabilities. What can be done on a map that you can't do with a GeoPad? One advantage of the GeoPad is that students can rapidly switch back and forth from a number of different types of visualizations: shaded relief maps, air photo, etc.
  • Students should be exposed to mapping using traditional methods and GeoPads. There should be a gradual trajectory of development from paper maps in the field, then allow students to scan their maps, learn georeferencing, etc., and finally produce a GIS map that derives from a paper map. In subsequent activities work directly on a GeoPad to create the same type of product. It's important that students gain ownership of their map products.
  • Even if the technology is somewhat buggy, limiting, now, it will get better and cheaper. We need to document successes to convince others it's worth the investment even with current limitations.
  • We need to help students think spatially, help students connect to databases, make changes to data, send updates back...
  • The future of GeoPads is headed towards real time database access.
  • Networking in the field: tablets can communicate with each other, the instructor can see where students are, the students can call for help, the instructor can provide advice via the pads, helps contribute to safety in the field.
  • Can use GPS tracking of students to monitor where they are going, where they are collecting data, how they are making decisions and solving problems.
  • Students can take panoramic images, upload to pad and draw cross sections, etc. directly on photos; these can also be uploaded into pads to show points of interest while on field trips while traveling from stop to stop.
  • Integrated GeoPad capabilities provide a positive step towards helping students think spatially and in three dimensions.
  • Note taking (annotation) and sketching functions on air photos provides a better learning activity than freehand sketching;
  • By merging digital images from the field and GPS coordinates, students can get better feedback from instructors to help correct specific problems; this also allows students to continue with their work, and to readily know when and where to go back to locations to look for additional details at a later stage based on new observations.
  • Many available software packages provide specific applications; however, students who are looking for jobs in the long run need training on the software that is the industry standard. Just because geo-specific functions are not readily available today, can work with companies to include new services in the future.
  • Screen clipping is an important function to help students integrate different types of visualizations with their field notes and maps.
  • GeoPads enable instructors to see the organizational principles students use as they form their own mental maps; instructors can identify points where intervention is needed.
  • Can use the extra zoom features on tablets to help the seeing impaired participate in field work; can't otherwise be done on paper products.
  • It is possible to do GeoPad exercises without a huge focus on GIS; can use standard computer commands to allow students to prepare maps, take notes.
  • GeoPad consortium should develop a standard tool bar that includes all the essential tasks so that novices don't have to reinvent this; other add-ons can be included for specific applications.
  • For most applications, OneNote, ArcMap and Arc Scene are sufficient to cover the range of note taking, mapping, and visualization functions.
  • GeoPads open the possibility to create projects that integrate multiple lines of evidence: geomapping, geophysics, geochemical anomalies, etc.
  • Depending on expected learning outcomes, two tracks could be followed: 1) students don't need to be masters of GIS in the first place, but get some exposure to GIS, and 2) students work towards proficiency in GIS, possibly with a capstone experience that has students prepare ;GeoPads for a major field campaign with integrated data.
  • To help students make complete observations in the field, could make online data entry forms as required by each project. However, this may put students in a mental straightjacket, but this could also help them recall the critical observations that are needed.