Teaching non-majors and not having ready access to fieldtrip sites is a familiar theme to me. I also teach mostly non-majors and living on the coastal plain near Houston, TX, we have to travel 2-3 hours away to reach rock and anything resembling topography. We have three in class fieldtrips to a local park and a cemetery and two weekend fieldtrips to parks farther from school to look mostly at surficial processes. I think that sometimes we are asking the wrong questions about the importance of fieldwork to non-majors. The fact is, we know that the likelihood of any non-majors doing geological fieldwork in the future is almost nil. The likelihood that any of them will go on vacation somewhere out-of-doors, however, is high. We also know that ALL of them will be living on Earth. Therefore, in my mind, the only way to get students to even notice the Earth around them and the process occurring on and in the Earth is to take them out to see it in person in whatever capacity is available. When students see class concepts in person, it makes much more sense to them. I also think it does them a world of good to get dirty now and again. Children grow up in a sanitized world removed from nature, much to their detriment (See The Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv, and exposing students to the Earth outside improves their life experiences. So, although I know I have not really mentioned any great scientific points here, it has been my experience that fieldtrips are vital to geoscience literacy. Even if the fieldtrip is just to examine the soil on campus or to hold class in the park down the street where a stream runs through. I think what we all need is the magic school bus.

Since we cannot all go to amazing geological sites during class, virtual fieldtrips coupled with local fieldtrips, can vastly improve the geoliteracy of our students. I don't think it has to be an either or situation. It would be interesting though to see a study done comparing the geoliteracy level of students who have complete a physical geology course (or similar course) going on traditional fieldtrips  to geologically significant sites and  to those who use geologically significant virtual fieldtrips coupled with local, perhaps less geologically significant, fieldtrips. I would like to hear more about your findings Frank. I like this discussion!

Kristie Bradford
Associate Professor of Geology
Lone Star College - Tomball
[log in to unmask]

From: Frank Granshaw<mailto:[log in to unmask]>
To: [log in to unmask]<mailto:[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Monday, October 25, 2010 10:36 PM
Subject: Geoscience reliance on fieldwork

Hello everyone...

I am currently looking at two arguments regarding the inclusion of fieldwork in geoscience literacy courses.

 1.  Since field studies are one of the major ways by which geoscience knowledge is constructed it is important to expose novices to how fieldwork works so they have some sense of where this knowledge comes from.  Plus it gives them first-hand experience with at least some of the phenomena that they are looking at.
 2.  With the refinement of remote sensing technology and an increasing emphasis on modeling and lab analysis, we are seeing more and more geoscientists that spend little or no time in the field.  Consequently, it is an inefficient use of limited educational resources to engage novices in an activity that is becoming increasingly less important to the research community.

Are any of you are familiar with any statistics related to the time various types of geoscientists spend in the field vs. other activities such as modeling, lab analysis, administration?  Any reflections or information on the other issues associated with this question would also be appreciated.

Frank G.

Frank D. Granshaw
Earth Science Instructor
Portland Community College
Sylvania Campus
Portland, OR