SSAC Physical Volcanology: Implementation at USF

General Information

Chuck Connor's four-credit Physical Volcanology was offered for the first time as an undergraduate elective in Spring Semester 2007. The lecture/lab/field trip course was taken by 28 students (two lab sections). The class included two 1-1/4-hr lectures per week, nine lab sessions, and eight SSAC Physical Volcanology modules. The volcanology class joined the structural geology class on a week-long field trip to the Snake River Plain, Idaho, organized by Paul Wetmore, the structural geology professor. Connor, who is also Chair of the Department, was assisted by two TAs.

The modules were introduced during lab sessions, to be completed as homework due the following week. Students turned in hard-copies of the Excel spreadsheets and graphs, as well as their working Excel files.

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Comments by Students

"The volcanology modules I used were one of the best learning experiences of my undergraduate program. It was like listening to a lecture and doing problems at the same time, so skills and concepts reinforced each other, and we could proceed at our own pace. Moving back and forth in the module helps you remember the big picture as you do each step. Our modules were set up to be calculations similar to those done when you are working, which supplied additional practical experience." - Peter Bumpus, now a geophysics graduate student at USF.

"By working through the modules in our physical volcanology class we were able to gain a better understanding of many of the concepts that were taught in the class, both those that were new to us such as bubble nucleation, and those that we had already encountered but which we needed to work with to fully grasp (e.g., viscosity). Overall I found the modules to be helpful, although more complex Excel functions, such as iterations, hindered those who didn't have a firm grasp of Excel from fully understanding the volcanological concepts. - Adam Springer, now a structural geology graduate student at USF.

"One, perhaps unforeseen, outcome of the challenging level of the physical volcanology modules was the development of groups of students who met not only to study but to focus on problem-solving. These problem-solving sessions gave us valuable experience in collaboration and brainstorming that will be utilized throughout the rest of our academic and professional careers." - Ali Furmall, now a seismology graduate student at U. Oregon.

Reflection by Professor

Connor and LaFemina developed these modules to take advantage of the SSAC concept in teaching volcanology. Our goals are slightly different from the SSAC goals, although we certainly want to help bring modern concepts in quantitative literacy into the undergraduate physical volcanology classroom. In addition, we hope these modules will promote physical volcanology in the undergraduate Geology curriculum, particularly as a capstone course that brings together many concepts introduced in other geology courses. Our second goal is to better prepare students for graduate work in volcanology and related fields.

We both concluded that the modules were necessary in Physical Volcanology because students commonly are not prepared to deal with and discuss the quantitative aspects of the subject. For example, most incoming students do not grasp the concepts of viscosity, density, or momentum, yet these terms are used throughout the term. The modules really involved students in learning and succeeded, in that most students were comfortable with these concepts by the end of the term.

We had particular success with modules that were paralleled by hands-on lab activities and lecture. For example, students learned in lecture about the role of density in magma ascent, measured densities, together with other rock properties in laboratory assignments, and learned to think quantitatively about density using modules. This reinforcement appeared to be essential.

Overall, the modules increased the pace of our courses and the level of discourse. Students were not always pleased with the pace and some were ready to insinuate that the modules were "extra work" and a heavy burden. Both at PSU and USF, a subset of the class experienced significant difficulty with the modules because some students were simply not prepared to work through the content. These students required a lot of assistance, or simply dropped the course. Conversely, each class had a subset of students who simply thrived on the problem-solving approach embodied in the modules. - Chuck Connor, USF