A Role-Playing Exercise in Coastal Geology and Land Use

Jeffrey W. Niemitz, Department of Geology, Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA 17013-2896, niemitz@dickinson.edu

National Association of Geoscience Teachers Oceanography students typically spend substantial time learning about the formation of barrier islands, lagoons, and estuaries along coasts such as the east coast of the U.S. From their studies of the biological and physical processes at work in coastal systems, it is clear to them that human development plays a major role in the future of barrier islands. This role-playing exercise is intended to teach students a holistic approach to understanding barrier-island systems.

The exercise begins with an assignment to read the North Carolina Coastal Management Law and taking a field trip to the Atlantic Coast.

Upon returning, the students are presented with a court case involving a hypothetical couple who have recently purchased land on a barrier island in North Carolina. Soon after their purchase, a hurricane swept over the island, creating a washover inlet through part of their property. The creation of this new, natural channel attracts the attention of a number of interested parties including the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE), the local fisherman's association, the nearby town solicitor, the Attorney General of North Carolina, and environmental group named the Friends of the Red Wolf (after an endangered island species), and others. Students choose or are assigned roles representing all of these groups and must conduct research on their positions prior to a class hearing.

A local attorney is invited to act as the judge at the hearing. Students representing the ACE argue before the judge that the Federal government has the right to take the drowned land as a new channel for navigation under the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution. They wish to dredge the channel to allow its use by fishing and recreational boats. The landowners argue against the taking of their land. The various special interest groups are charged with preparing and presenting oral briefs in support of the landowners or of the ACE.

The instructor acts as the expert witness, providing additional technical information when needed. All of the students join in the discussion, and the judge makes a final ruling based on the strengths of the arguments and appropriate legal precedents.

This role-playing exercise, which can easily be adapted to other locatons and land-use issues, offers student an opportunity to conduct topical research, prepare and deliver oral presentations, and learn about a specific geological environment in some depth; all in a manner that is enjoyable for the students and the instructor.

Niemitz, 2000 . Journal of Geoscience Education v. 48 no. 5 (November 2000) p. 578.