DEVELOPING RESEARCH BASED LABORATORIES FOR INTRODUCTORY PHYSICAL AND
Jose P. Cervantes, Diane I. Doser
Department of Geological Science, The University of Texas at El Paso, El Paso TX 79902 [email protected], [email protected]
Exploring Geoscience Methods - InTeGrate
In 2014, a 5 year grant from Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) was
awarded to The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) to create research based
labs in introductory courses in the College of Science. In the 2016-2017
academic year the Department of Geological Sciences added 1 section of
research based physical and historical geology labs. Geological Science majors
are strongly encouraged to participate in these labs, but any interested
students are admitted to the labs. The first 6 weeks of both courses focused
on developing geoscience skills such as reading maps and keeping field
notebooks. Both courses had a shallow subsurface geophysical field research
experience that focused on soil changes along the Rio Grande. We also used
some units from the InTeGrate modules on Exploring Geoscience Methods
and Climate of Change. The students enjoyed the field experience and a
laboratory based on soil analysis. In the first semester student attendance and
completion of on-line, pre-lab assignments was poor. Students also had low
computer skills and difficulty making predictions and drawing conclusions. We
modified the lab based on those problems and have seen much improvement
The first semester we used material from unit 1 on geoscience thinking, we
found most students did not complete the required readings prior to class.
This made discussion of how geoscientists approach research problems
differently than other scientists difficult. In fact, the students showed a
reluctance throughout the semester to read any materials posted on-line or
complete any pre-lab or missed lab assignments. Consequently their final
course grades suffered (see figure at lower right of poster). In the second
semester, class time was allotted for completing the units reading assignment
followed by group presentations and discussions. This led to better
participation and retention of the material throughout the semester.
The purpose of these freshman level labs was to expose students to
geoscience research as early as possible in their undergraduate careers. In
both semesters the lab began with an introduction to geoscience thinking
activity which included material from unit 1 of the InTeGrate Exploring
Geoscience Methods module. In Spring 2017 material from unit 1 of the
InTeGrate Climate of Change module was used as a homework assignment.
In both Fall and Spring semesters the students learned how to conduct field
research and to process and analyze the data collected. Both research
projects focused on shallow subsurface geophysics studies of soils along the
Rio Grande in west El Paso, TX. In the Fall 2016 semester the majority of
students were geology majors. Only three geoscience students who took the
Fall 2016 lab continued on to the Spring 2017 lab. Several of the nonreturning majors decided that based on the lab and field experience they did
not want to become geologists, several dropped out of UTEP due to poor
performance in other courses and at least one major could not fit the spring
lab into their schedule. The make up of the labs is shown below. Most other
STEM majors came from the Computer Science program.
Climate of Change Quiz
Each semester, the students collected and interpreted various types of
geophysical data (magnetics, conductivity, resistivity and GPS). In Fall 2016,
the study focused on soil changes related to the building of a levee and
walking path. In Spring 2017, the study focused on how soil conditions
influence the growth of trees along the Rio Grande. The spring research was
done in collaboration with environmental science majors enrolled in a
sophomore level research course.
The word clouds below reflect the student answers to the question What
were the two most interesting things you learned in this class ? that was
included on the final exam for each lab. The responses clearly indicate they
felt they learned considerably from the field trip and analysis of the data they
collected. Several students also specifically
felt they learned a great amount
from working together in groups throughout the semester.
Student performance in Fall 2016 was poor, due in part to many students
inability to complete missed labs and turn in work on-line, although we
repeatedly offered them assistance . The students also had poor computer
skills (e.g., only 50% knew how to use Excel) making it difficult for them to
analyze data and write a final report. Based on these results, we provided
more in-class readings and guidance at the beginning of Spring 2017 before
requiring students to turn in on-line assignments. We also insured they
completed preliminary computer generated maps and figures in lab so that
they would be able to immediately use these materials in their final reports.
By taking a slower and guided approach we saw an increase in student final
Students conducting geophysical field work along the Rio Grande in Fall 2016 and Spring 2017.
Clockwise from top left Magnetics, GPS, Conductivity, Resistivity.
The reading on adapting to climate change and the related questions from
unit 1 of this module were used as a take-home lab assignment when a
University holiday conflicted with the lab schedule. An in-class quiz on the
reading was given during the next lab and the results are shown below. The
questions that most students had a difficult time answering were: Q3 (related
to how the Incas decided when to plant crops), Q6 (related to why certain
Yucatan lakes were good for gathering sediments) and Q9 (related to what
was examined in mud samples of Greenland lakes)
Climate of Change - InTeGrate
This research was supported by HHMI Sustaining Excellence Award No.
52008125 to S. Aley as part of the UTEP PERSIST Program.
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