Graduate Student Guided Physical Geology Laboratory Design at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville

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The University of Tennessee at Knoxville’s (UTK) Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences is redesigning laboratory curriculum and exercises for introductory physical geology to emphasize experiential learning at both the undergraduate and graduate student level. We have chosen to heavily involve graduate students in curriculum redesign for two reasons: one, graduate students are more involved in teaching introductory laboratory courses, and therefore have insight into material and activities that have been successful or unsuccessful in the past; and two, many graduate students within UTK’s department go on to successful faculty positions, where they will be expected to design their own course materials. By giving graduate students the opportunity to design curriculum that they will teach, they are actively learning effective teaching practices and developing skills that will be invaluable in future careers as educators and science communicators. During the curriculum redesign, graduate students have been co-designing activities, laboratory manuals, material introduction lectures, and quizzes through the entire process of initial brainstorming to completion.

The laboratory exercises are based on emphasizing hands-on, student-driven learning, utilizing both digital and tactile exercises. Key materials introduced into the newly designed labs include the use of Chromebooks for Google Earth and Sheets for exercises to examine real-world localities and to perform simple computations and plotting; LEGO® toys to represent multiple geological concepts, from conceptualizing cleavage planes of minerals to characterizing topographic maps; ant farms to represent groundwater flow and karst development; and aquariums to emphasize the effects climate change has on the environment. One example of the new lab objectives is acclimating students to using the Chromebooks and Sheets by focusing on unit conversions, and measuring elevation at a location on Google Earth where there is historic data to determine rates of change and make predictions about future elevations. Incorporating these materials provides increased interaction with geologic concepts to improve understanding, retention, and connectivity of themes and gives graduate students real experience in designing effective course materials.

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Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, v. 49, issue 3