Effectively teaching young scholars in large groups is a challenge when numerous studies show that the average retention rate for students listening to lectures is about 5 %. This rate increases to 10% when they are required to read, 20 % when instruction includes audio-visual aids, 30 % when there are physical demonstrations, about 50 % when the students participate in a discussion group, about 75 % when they practice by doing, and, as all of us up at the blackboard know, the average retention rate is about 90 % when teaching or application is part of the learning. Field studies involve demonstrations, discussion groups, direct practice, and immediate applications and are therefore very effective. Practical instruction is key, as is student involvement, and I bring both to the classroom courses I will offer and am developing. I am now on Sabbatical for '07-'08. In future courses I plan on collaboration with colleagues from the School of Human Evolution and Social Change (SHESC) as well as the School of Sustainability.
Humans and the Environment
This first-year undergraduate writing seminar is my opportunity to reach students when they are searching for a focus in their college career. The seminar format enables student presentations and direct ties between student research and my graduate program. Iāve developed a progression of paper writing, leading students through 4 different papers with multiple drafts each using revisions during the term. Lectures integrate student participation and include field examples with direct application and interest that crosses disciplines. Their final paper is based on the juxtaposition between wilderness as a construct of the mind and the place of humans in it, and is motivated by an ascent of Mount Washington, the highest peak on the east coast.
Earth Surface Processes and Landforms
Undergraduate students independently complete three field research projects after collecting field data in small groups. The projects give students direct experience with doing independent research as well as gaining an appreciation for how scientific research can actually change the way we manage the landscape. A slope stability analysis of a shallow landslide, for example, emphasizes the importance of cohesive strength in the soil, due in part to root strength. Roots depend on vegetation, which depends on climate and land use. Calculus is required, and modeling landscape evolution using the different transport laws emerging from my research connects field studies with mathematical training. Watershed processes: Graduate courses combine fieldwork, discussion groups, student presentations, and focused analyses of research papers on topics along a theme. Last year, I built this course around the theme of landscape evolution. Students used laser total survey stations to map watersheds in the Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) area of Hubbard Brook, NH, collected and analyzed sediment and soil samples for short-lived isotope concentrations, and wrote final reports on the geomorphic processes shaping the post-glacial landscape. This year, we focused on Geomorphic Transport Laws and predictive modeling, using simple numerical modeling to examine transport laws.
Large, introductory undergraduate courses offer the challenge I refer to above. Next year, I will convey excitement and relevance of Earth Sciences to students not previously considering the major. Not only do I consider it a challenge to develop a pedagogy that will capture student learning, but I am also hope to attract as many new students into the field as possible. Three field trips will be woven into the class and I will capitalize on student enthusiasm by creating an intra class competition between small groups. Material presented, perhaps in the form of traditional Tibetan debate, or through actual sporting events based on aspects of Earth history, will help individual students take ownership of course material. In the process they will recognize the importance of discerning how we humans affect the Earth, as well as gaining a taste of the excitement of discovery.