Assessing Field-based Activities

Field-based activities are rich venues for building student's conceptual knowledge and learning the skills that geoscientists use in gathering ground-truth data. Real world experiences in the field show students that outcrops are much more complex than figures in a textbook. As such they provide the opportunity for faculty and graduate teaching assistants to engage students in the process of developing geological interpretations from a given set of data. In the activity Geologic Mapping I the faculty has identified three learning objectives. These are:

  • Combine field observations of location and lithology to make a geologic map.
  • Understand the continuity of rock units under the topography between outcrops and at depth.
  • Understand the interpretive quality of geologic maps and cross sections.

Developing Rubrics for Field-based Activities

Field-based activities require students to perform complex tasks that include collecting and interpreting data. Assessing a student's performance is also a complex task for the faculty charged with fairly assessing a student's achievement of the activity's learning objectives. Rubrics are a tool to make the task easier and fairer for both the student and faculty because they can measure such complex tasks as writing and the interpretation of data directly. Handed out prior to the activity, rubrics will focus what is important for students to do and produce. Start by asking yourself, "what would constitute an A grade in each of my learning objectives. Then how a B, C, D would differ from the ideal A performance. Here is an example developed for students working to develop a geologic map and cross-section of folded and faulted sedimentary rock units. As you can see in the example, each of the learning objectives of the activity has a corresponding set of grading criteria ranging from a high of 4 to a low of 1. The scores for each learning objective may be summed and divided by the number of learning objectives (in this case 3) to obtain a final grade for the activity. Click on the following hotlink to download the rubric, or see the resources below for other assessment ideas.

PDF Version (Acrobat (PDF) 59kB Apr5 05)


  • Using Campus Walks in Introductory Earth Science Classes. [Francek, 1996] This article in the Journal of College Science Teaching presents ideas for brief trips that can be organized on any campus to view lithologic, geomorphic, meteorologic, and biotic phenomena. The study aims to help enable students to cultivate observation and inquiry skills. Topics discussed during these mini-fieldtrips include rocks and minerals, weathering, microlandforms, weather, daytime astronomy, biogeography and soils. The article also provides tips for organizing trips. (citation and description)
  • The Transported Fossil Bed: Bringing Field Studies in Ancient Life to Any Campus. [Hartman and Dubowsky, 1989] This article in American Biology Teacher describes a project designed to transport a rich fossil-bearing bed of rock to the campus of a community college for analysis by undergraduate students. All the arrangements, including acquisition of the rock, transportation, and project costs are discussed. (citation and description)
  • Groundwater Field Station for Geoscience Students. [Hudak, 1999] This article from the Journal of Geography describes how to create a low-cost groundwater field station for a college hydrogeology course. The article discusses how students use the station to collect and interpret data from wells, and to study spatial hydraulic-head measurements to learn about groundwater flow. The article also discusses why hands-on activities are a valuable addition to a hydrogeology course. (citation and description)
  • Effect of Field Activities on Student Learning. [Kern and Carpenter, 1986] This article from the Journal of Geological Education presents a study that assessed the influence of field activities versus classroom-contained activities upon students in an earth science laboratory course. Test results indicated that both groups had identical levels of lower-order learning but the field-oriented group demonstrated higher levels of understanding and application. (citation and description)
  • Active Learning in Secondary and College Science Classrooms: A Working Model for Helping the Learner to Learn. [Michael and Modell, 2003] This book by Joel Michael and Harold Modell is designed for professionals interested an active learning approach to teaching students. The main topics covered in this book are how to build the foundation for active learning, roles for the teacher in creating an active learning environment and creating active learning environments. (citation and description)
  • Assessment Essentials: Planning, Implementing, and Improving Assessment in Higher Education. [Palomba and Banta, 1999] This book by Catherine Palomba and Trudy Banta is a step-by-step guide that provides the most current practices for developing assessment programs on college and university campuses. Each chapter of the book addresses a specific aspect of assessment and is designed to walk users through various steps of the assessment process. The authors describe effective assessment programs and offer a thorough review of the most up-to-date practices in the field. (citation and description)
  • Learning Geologic Time in the Field. [Thomas, 2001] This inquiry-based project has each student go out and collect 3 rocks (1 igneous, 1 metamorphic, and 1 sedimentary) from a given area and to determine how they fit into that area's geologic history. (citation and description)