Experience One: Teaching the geoscience curriculum in the field using experiential immersion learning
Published:December 01, 2009
Robert C. Thomas, Sheila Roberts, 2009. "Experience One: Teaching the geoscience curriculum in the field using experiential immersion learning", Field Geology Education: Historical Perspectives and Modern Approaches, Steven J. Whitmeyer, David W. Mogk, Eric J. Pyle
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At the University of Montana Western (UMW), geoscience classes are taught primarily through immersion in field research projects. This paper briefly describes: (1) why and how we achieved a schedule that supports immersion learning, (2) examples of two geoscience classes taught in the field, (3) assessment, and (4) the challenges of this model of teaching and learning. The University of Montana Western is the first public four-year campus to adopt immersion learning based on one-class-at-a-time scheduling. We call it “Experience One” because classes emphasize experiential learning and students take only one class for 18 instructional days. The system was adopted campus wide in the fall of 2005 after a successful pilot program funded by the U.S. Department of Education. The geoscience curriculum has been altered to reduce lecture and focus on field projects that provide direct experience with the salient concepts in the discipline. Students use primary literature more than textbooks, and assessment emphasizes the quality of their projects and presentations. Many projects are collaborative with land-management agencies and private entities and require students to use their field data to make management decisions. Assessment shows that the immersion-learning model improves educational quality. For example, the 2008 National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) showed that UMW has high mean scores compared to other campuses participating in the survey. Of the many challenges, none is more important than the need for faculty to change the ways in which they interact with students.