Applied Learning and Reflective Writing in Geology

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Dave Jones

During the Spring 2020 semester I taught a course that I had newly developed, GEOL 112, on the topic of Surficial Earth Dynamics. My learning goals for students in this course were that they would develop:

Three Learning Goals

  1. An understanding of how the scientific method is applied to Geology (e.g., data collection, informed observation, interpretation, and prediction),
  2. An improved ability to work collaboratively, and 
  3. A relationship to, and responsibility for, the natural landscapes that they inhabit, as well as those they will never visit.

After the shift to remote learning, I modified both the nature of the labs (to virtual rather than face-to-face) in the course, as well as the final assignment in the course. For the second half of the semester, I taught the labs asynchronously using fun self-produced videos (called “The Surf Chronicles”) that I filmed, with my children as co-explorers, at sites around the Connecticut River Valley. To get students excited for our virtual field trips, I also made a movie trailer with the outtakes and sent it to them over spring break. These videos were combined with map work and reasonable questions for the students to think about and answer each week.

For the final writing assignment (description provided below), I wanted students to demonstrate their ability to apply their geological learning and reflect on how their thinking about landscapes had changed over the semester. There were two parts to this assignment, with the first aspect of the assignment being more technical, in which students were asked to connect what they have learned about the Earth system and apply it to a new geological problem (the Snowball Earth hypothesis). The second aspect of the assignment asked students to reflect on a physical, natural space to which they felt connected. Each student had initially reflected on this place in the beginning of the semester. At the course’s end, they were asked to again write about that place from their new perspective. I prompted them to identify a geological question that arose for them about that place from a thematic section of the course, and I encouraged them to describe the observations they would make to inform their answer to that question. Finally, the assignment asked them to write about how learning about Earth’s surface processes may have affected their relationship to this landscape, their sense of responsibility to the land, and their care for and about the natural spaces around them. Provided are several examples of students’ reflections about place and their connection to the landscape.

Final Writing Assignment

Read the Final Writing Assignment. (PDF version)

Snapshot of Coursework

Examples of the reflections on ways in which learning about the Earth’s surface may have affected how students think about their relationship to their selected landscape and the values that guide their decisions and actions: