One of the courses I teach at Kent is an introductory geology course called ‘Earth Dynamics’. In my first lecture of term last week, I gave my new class a brief survey to get an idea of their previous exposure to geology and their interest in the course. The students in this class are mainly non-geology majors, so it provides an interesting insight into the experience and concerns of the less rock-obsessed, who are nonetheless interested enough* to give geology a try.
First, I asked: Have you any previous exposure to geology before this course (lessons at high school, trips to places such as Yellowstone National Park, TV specials, books etc.)?
From the answers it seems that many American high school science courses do offer some sort of basic introduction to geology, although I’m hardly drilling down into the scope of this instruction, or whether it was particularly engaging (my pre-university geological education in the UK consisted of a barely memorable lesson or two in Chemistry). Unsurprisingly, TV (particularly National Geographic and the Discovery Channel, whatever the latter’s recent sins) is also a fairly common source of exposure, whereas books – perhaps also unsurprisingly (and depressingly) – are not. What is perhaps more interesting is how many people listed could recount personal experiences that they counted as being geological in nature – a sign that all those information boards in the National Parks make some kind of impression, perhaps?
Next I asked: from the schedule of topics listed in the syllabus, are there any topics that are of particular interest? Is there any topic not mentioned that you are interested in learning about?
Very few people went outside the (fairly generic) weekly topic list in the syllabus (which probably explains the poor showing of fossils). I could probably have predicted that there would be plenty of interest focussed on climate change, earthquakes, and volcanoes, and I am contractually obliged by my co-blogger to show no surprise at the strong showing of things water related, but the relative popularity or unpopularity of some of the other topics were more surprising. Although they are a core part of geology, I didn’t think people would start off the course thinking Rocks and Minerals or Dating and Interpreting Rocks were necessarily interesting, although it does suggest that my class are well aware of what they were getting into when they signed up for the course. Given our proximity to fracking country, I might have expected more interest in Earth Resources, as well.
Of course, a single snapshot from one class in one year at one university somewhat limits what you can say. But it’s always nice to get some impression of what your students are thinking.
*or, yes, intimidated by the likes of physics and pursuing what is regarded as the easy science option. They’ll learn…