The onset of the COVID pandemic in Spring 2020 forced universities across the world to shift to online, remote education. Although all educators struggled to teach their course content in the new virtual setting, this transitional phase was exceptionally worrisome for field-geology instructors and the students. How do you teach field geology online? Of particular concern was how to make an effective and beneficial capstone Summer Field experience for the students. Traditionally, Summer Field Camp is where seniors get to camp together and work outside for about a month, using geology knowledge they gained during their undergraduate coursework to conduct geologic mapping projects. It’s a fun experience that stays with students for a lifetime.
As it became apparent that Summer Field courses could not operate in person and in the field, Field Camp directors across the country came together, through initiatives by the National Association of Geoscience Teachers (NAGT), to discuss best practices and find a solution to simulate the Summer Field experience. Namely, how could we make a comprehensive immersive course that built on prior knowledge? Knowing that Zoom could not recreate aspects of the field, such as breaking a rock to see the minerals in it, we first started addressing the fundamental question of “What should students get out of a capstone field camp?” This led to the development of a basic set of learning outcomes, which can be viewed here. With these in mind, instructors developed online exercises in Google Earth and other platforms, sharing content and working together to make Field Camps in the limited time we had.
At UNR, Philipp Ruprecht (DGSE), Rich Koehler (NBMG), and I (Andrew Zuza, NBMG) designed an immersive 4-week online Field Camp experience that involved geologic mapping, using Google Earth as a base, with particular focus on structure, regional tectonics, Quaternary mapping, and igneous geology. Outcrop notes, photos, and attitudes were variably provided to the students, and they developed digital geologic maps accordingly. We mailed out igneous rock samples for one exercise to reinforce practice in mineral and rock identification. It wasn’t perfect, and there were hiccups along the way, but we believe we put together a meaningful capstone course for the students. We also greatly appreciated their immense patience and flexibility as we developed an online field class from scratch. An additional welcomed outcome of these exercises was the innovative training of our students that gave them new experience to assess the geology remotely and to present their work using modern software.
We were happy to see this article in GSA Today, highlighting Quentin Burgess’s experience with the UNR Geology Field Camp.
Andrew (Camp Director), Rich, and Philipp
Field Camp by the Glow of a Laptop?
GSA Foundation Update
GSA Today, November 2020, page 30
Copied below with permission from GSA Today
“Field camp is a critical component for students pursuing geoscience. However, many hoping to complete this requirement had their plans derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Students were faced with the difficult choice of postponing or venturing into the unknown and attending field camp by the glow of a laptop rather than a campfire. To help navigate this unprecedented decision, recipients of GSA’s 2020 J. David Lowell Field Camp Scholarships were given the option to defer their awards or use them to attend a virtual field camp. We spoke with two of the students who chose the virtual option, and they shared the difficulties and rewards of their experiences.
Priscilla Martinez attended California State University, Fullerton’s, first-ever virtual field camp course. She shared, “These four weeks of rigorous training have prepared me to work effectively to solve geologic problems, both collaboratively and independently. I learned how to design a field strategy and collect data using satellite imagery, aerial photography, three-point problems, and unit descriptions. Using the data collected from each site, I produced geologic maps, cross sections, and stratigraphic columns to better understand the depositional and regional tectonic history of the field sites. Above all, participating in field camp enabled me to grow more confident in my ability to map geologic features and present my findings in an articulate manner. Although I did not experience the long days hiking in the field nor did I get to bond with my classmates over a bonfire, I gained invaluable knowledge and skills that will allow me to excel in a new technologically driven era of the geoscience world. I also now feel equipped and excited to begin my master’s program at California State University, Northridge.”
Quentin Burgess, a student at the University of Nevada, Reno, told us, “In the face of adversity, my department devised a memorable field experience that challenged the traditional approach; instead of going into the field, the field was brought to us. Even though we were behind a screen, each day ran like a normal field camp; in the morning we discussed regional geology and goals of the day, and by the afternoon we were drafting our geologic maps and cross sections. At the day’s end, we huddled around the glow of our monitors like the glow of a campfire, comparing notes on assumptions, postulating subsurface structures, and creating plans for meet-ups once the world returns to normal. Overall, this virtual experience taught me the ability to better communicate with individuals that are not in the same room, it pushed my critical thinking skills in geology since I could not physically stand atop an outcrop, and most importantly showed me a new way to study the earth without ever leaving home.”
The next generation of geoscientists is resilient. As the world continues to shift and change, with our support, they are ready to shift and change with it. We realize these are uncertain times for many, and yet we hope to help students continue navigating through their career paths during this time. Will you make a gift to the J. David Lowell Field Camp Scholarship Program? Your support will help students like Priscilla and Quentin attend field camp to gain the skills and knowledge to pursue geoscience in a changing world.”