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Volume 24 Issue 7 (July 2014)

GSA Today

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Article, pp. 4-10 | Full Text | PDF (882KB)

Geoscientistsí perceptions of the value of undergraduate field education

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H.L. Petcovic1*, A. Stokes2, J.L. Caulkins3

1 Department of Geosciences and the Mallinson Institute for Science Education, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan 49008, USA
2 School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, Plymouth University, Plymouth PL4 8AA, UK
3 Department of Geosciences, University of Rhode Island, Kingston, Rhode Island 02881, USA


Learning in “the field” has long held a prominent role in the education of geoscientists. Despite the expense, time, and liability risks associated with fieldwork, field experiences are widely perceived as integral to both learning and professional preparation. Yet, to date, little research has addressed questions of what types of field experiences are valuable and what outcomes are desired. We report findings from survey data collected at the 2010 and 2011 Geological Society of America Annual Meetings that characterize why undergraduate field education is valued within the geoscience community. While 89.5% of respondents (n = 172) indicated that fieldwork should be an integral and required part of undergraduate education, only 36.5% agreed that a course in bedrock mapping was necessary. Fieldwork is valued mainly for perceived cognitive gains, such as knowledge and understanding, and for enabling learners to interact with geological phenomena in their natural state. We found few statistically significant differences between self-identified groups, suggesting that students, instructors, and professional geologists hold largely similar opinions about the value of field education. This study helps to identify long-term goals and outcomes of undergraduate educational fieldwork experiences and points to actions needed to align fieldwork experiences with educational goals, workforce needs, and actual learning outcomes.

DOI: 10.1130/GSATG196A.1

Manuscript received 19 Aug. 2013; accepted 18 Nov. 2013.