Photo of students and teacher in the woods, in discussion near a stream.

An Introduction to Geology field trip in action. (Photo courtesy of Taylor Perron. Used with permission.)

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

Introductory geology can be among the most enjoyable educational experiences for students if only because there is so much hands-on activity in the labs, with all the rock samples and minerals to identify and analyze, and of course, there are field trips!

Students get to leave campus for the great outdoors and go on hikes to look at landscapes, geologic features, outcrops, rocks, and the life forms that have adapted to live in these places. They see the world as they have never seen it before. What could be more fun?

OCW has just published an updated version of 12.001 Introduction to Geology. The course is co-taught by Professors Taylor Perron and Oliver Jagoutz, and the OCW site has abundant and detailed lecture notes, colorful lecture slides, and an extensive set of labs and lab exercises.

A highlight of the course is a field trip to eastern New York and western Massachusetts. The field trip is really many trips rolled into one, with 11 stops over a weekend spent camping. Included on the OCW site is a thorough field trip guide, which has an itinerary for each stop (with directions and a schedule), explanations of what is being observed, geologic maps and illustrations, and exercises. The trip exposes students to “geologic evidence for the past action of plate tectonics” as students examine “various rocks from different tectonic settings that have been used to reconstruct the complex Paleozoic history of the eastern United States and Canada.” This is so much more than leaf peeping!

On their Instructor Insights page, the instructors explain the importance of providing students with a narrative context for the trip, in other words “a good story,” so students can appreciate what they are experiencing. The instructors share other key insights, such as the advantages of co-teaching (developing a “repartee” by playing off of one another in class adds to the excitement), the relevance of geology to human society, and the importance of getting students comfortable with “messiness.”