Field-based learning is recognized for the ability to engage and inspire earth science students of all levels. The long tradition of departmental sponsored field trips at Northwestern University has provided the basis for developing an 8-10 day structured non-credit field excursion to the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, undertaken in 2009 and 2010. Student participation has reached over 80% of the cohort, while feedback indicates success at building moral within the department, increasing confidence in undertaking field-based research, and the citation of the excursion as the highlight of the undergraduate program by graduating majors. Pre-trip preparations include 2-3 introductory overview lectures, and completion of 2-4 self-selected journal articles. Thus, a mutually supportive learning environment is established as each student arrives with overlapping but distinct knowledge on the local earth system. Each day is focused on a topic, such as carbonate depositional environments, diagenesis and karstification, hydrogeology, biogeochemistry, biogeography, geophysics, seismology, the Chicxulub impact crater, Caribbean tectonics, water resource and waste management, and environmental hazards. The focus of each day is coupled with skill based field exercises that generate observational data sets to test hypotheses. During field lectures, individual students are called upon to share their knowledge to the group based on their pre-trip readings. This approach of guiding the learning and communication of knowledge by individual students to peers has allowed for a rich experience across sub-disciplines and program levels from freshman undergraduate to the senior levels of the PhD program. Ongoing development of the excursion design includes increasing student-led exercises, advancement of the trip ‘wiki’ for pre- and post-excursion information exchange, development of new skill exercises in geochemistry and geophysics including instrument use from IRIS, further integration with regular session course including a new course offering on Instrumentation and Field Methods, and progressing towards student-led publication based on results of field sampling during the excursion. Printed handouts will be provided with the excursion structure and itinerary, and logistical details.
|Published - Oct 31 2010