Using Field Labs

This material was originally developed as part of the Carleton College Teaching Activity Collection
through its collaboration with the SERC Pedagogic Service.
Initial Publication Date: November 10, 2005

Written by Mary Savina of Carleton College

Images of geoscience students and instructors in the field

Students love field labs! They enjoy being outside and they appreciate the fact that geoscience field labs are unusually tactile and bring them into contact with real, messy (in all senses of that word) problems. For instance, as instructors we may start out with a focus on the lithology at an outcrop, but soon aspects of weathering enter the conversation and the physical "lithosphere" becomes linked to the atmosphere and biosphere. For these reasons, field labs are a great way to draw students into inquiry-based scientific investigations.

What is a field lab?

Field labs are extended (more than one hour), structured, outdoors, scientific investigations aimed at observing, collecting and recording data. Field labs are related to, but distinct from, other interactive investigations carried out in the field, such as student and student-faculty field research, field trips, field lectures, etc. Examples on this page can be modified for shorter (10-15 minute) field observational experiences; see in particular how to find field sites on your campus. Visit the field labs mini-collection for examples

Why use field labs?

Field labs introduce students to complex natural systems, break down barriers among geoscience fields, encourage multiple observations, and introduce students to the geologic history and geography of the area near their campus.
Learn more about the benefits of using field labs

How to use field labs - Logistical and Pedagogical considerations

Length of time available (though field labs can be started in just a few minutes) and accessible areas (though some field labs can be done in practically any outdoor area) are two of the important logistical considerations. Other concerns include access to property, safety, and weather issues. Equipment needs range from items that can be found at any hardware store to specialty items that must be purchased through catalogs or on-line sources.
Logistical considerations - advice for location, transportation, safety, and equipment.

Field labs also invite different pedagogical styles than classroom and indoor lab investigations.
Pedagogical considerations - tips for time considerations, structure, and teaching methods.

Examples of field labs appropriate for introductory geoscience classes

Labs and handouts categorized by geoscience topic. Visit the field labs mini-collection for examples.

For further reading

Relevant articles from the Journal of Geoscience Education and a few helpful textbooks. Read bibliography.

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