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Innovation and obsolescence in geoscience field courses: Past experiences and proposals for the future

By
Declan G. De Paor
Declan G. De Paor
Department of Physics, Old Dominion University, Room 306, 4600 Elkhorn Avenue, Norfolk, Virginia 23529, USA
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Steven J. Whitmeyer
Steven J. Whitmeyer
Department of Geology and Environmental Science, James Madison University, Memorial Hall 7105B, 395 S. High Street, MSC 6903, Harrisonburg, Virginia 22807, USA
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Published:
December 01, 2009

Like many similar courses across the United States, traditional geology field camps run by Boston University (BU) and James Madison University (JMU) faced a crisis at the turn of the twenty-first century. Student enrollment was declining, and many geoscience professionals questioned the continued relevance of field camps to modern undergraduate geoscience programs. A reassessment of field course content, along with changes to management styles and attitudes, was required for survival. In our case, the combination of relocation, managerial improvements, curriculum innovations, and elimination of redundant exercises resulted in a vibrant course with a strong student demand. We believe that our reforms may serve as a guide to success for other courses that are facing similar difficulties. The current JMU field course in western Ireland is the product of reforms and modernizations to the previous BU and JMU traditional field camps. To create time for new course content, we had to consider whether long-established exercises were still essential. Caution is needed in both adding and deleting course content, as the curriculum may suffer from inclusion of new technologies that turn out to be short-lived and from discontinuation of exercises that develop students’ core field expertise. Nevertheless, we have implemented major changes in the ways students are taught to work in the field, and we question the continued relevance of some existing procedures. Our criteria include level of pedagogical engagement and transferability of skills to nongeoscience professions.

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Contents

GSA Special Papers

Field Geology Education: Historical Perspectives and Modern Approaches

Steven J. Whitmeyer
Steven J. Whitmeyer
Department of Geology and Environmental Science, James Madison University, USA
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David W. Mogk
David W. Mogk
Department of Earth Sciences, Montana State University, USA
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Eric J. Pyle
Eric J. Pyle
Department of Geology and Environmental Science, James Madison University, USA
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Geological Society of America
Volume
461
ISBN print:
9780813724614
Publication date:
December 01, 2009

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