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Wednesday, June 18 • 4:00pm - 5:30pm
POSTER.21 – Learning Geological Mapping and Map Making for Undergraduates: Crucial, Transformational and Future-Proof?

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A basic tenet of professional programmes is that experiential learning is critical to practice. Our hypothesis is that field learning, specifically, geological mapping, is both transformative, in that it helps students transition from learners to experts, and “future-proofing“ in that it develops the habits of mind of integrating sparse observations into meaningful models.

Queen’s students seeking degrees in Geological Sciences and Geological Engineering  (GS&GE) begin with a fall term field (28 h/lab 40 h) course (GEOE/L 221), followed by a 12 day, 11 hour a day spring field course (GEOE/L 300).  Fundamental to these courses is geological mapping, where the process is defined as making observations of earth materials and features in space, typically the 2D surface of the Earth, incorporating those observations and features into a 3D conceptualization (or model) of the earth system, and from that conceptualization, identifying spatial and temporal relationships among components. This type of mapping is accretive, that is, the process and product are intertwined.  Students produce visual records (maps, cross-sections) and written reports to demonstrate learning. A summative oral exam is included at the end of both courses.

Biggs and Collis (1982) identified that “as learning progresses it becomes more complex”, and that students go through stages of meaning making, from the accumulation of seemingly random observations in the early stages, to the complex meaning making that results in a system or conceptualization.  We contend that undergraduate students learning to map experience this progression.  Furthermore, we observe that Queen’s GS&GE students appear to undergo a transformation in their learning in the latter half of each field course.  We hypothesize that this transformation is when students begin to change from being novices to being experts, whereby they assemble their observations into a meaningful whole, and pass through a threshold of learning similar to that proposed by Meyer and Land (2003).

Despite financial pressures, Queen’s GS&GE has continued to offer rich field experiences for undergraduates.  While our belief is that field learning is transformative and crucial, there is only anecdotal evidence of its importance to students.  This prompts us to ask, “Is field learning essential to learning and practicing in the geosciences?” In order to examine this contention, we have initiated a longitudinal survey of current students and alumni about the nature of their field experiences. Initial data will form part of our poster, in addition to information about faculty attitudes towards field learning.  Additional data include the nearly 20 years of success in raising funds for field learning from alumni. We take as evidence of their belief in and commitment to field learning, the numerous donations from both alumni and industry.

We contend that geological mapping stimulates and enhances theoretical learning, and that once students become adept at making and incorporating field observations into their personal conceptualization of an earth system, they pass through a threshold from novice to expert mapper. The observational, meaning-making, and synthesis skills of the adept mapper are hallmarks of the successful professional geoscientist and geoengineer.  The accretive process of mapping, and all it entails, may be extended to other fields, such as nursing, medicine, and biology, to name a few, where close observation and disparate data sets are incorporated into conceptualizations.

Wednesday June 18, 2014 4:00pm - 5:30pm
McArthur Hall

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