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Sample Proposal: Independent Inquiry

Jackson School of Geosciences

Please direct all questions about the flag proposal process to the Center for the Core Curriculum.

GEO 660B: Field Geology

Department of Geological Sciences

Please describe how students will engage in independent investigation and presentation of their own work through the course. Please explain specifically how your course engages students in the process of inquiry in your discipline.

This is one of two three-week field courses taken by almost all seniors in Geological Sciences to complete the required field element for the degree options in our program BS program. The class is taught off campus at localities throughout the Rocky Mountain regions of New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and Utah. The class is entirely inquiry-based and centers on 6, multi-day field projects. The projects are individual exercises that present results in the form of geologic maps, cross sections and written reports. Projects are rather open ended – except for providing geographic boundaries and an outline of the products they will turn in, they are expected to discover, record, and analyze key field observations and measurements with minimal direct input from course staff. A typical project begins with a ½ day of familiarization to the field geology of the area being studied followed by a ½ day refresher in the particular field skill that are being emphasized/taught during the exercise. Students are paired with a randomly selected partner (for safety) during field work but work individually in the evenings. Projects are designed to teach and practice particular field skills as they apply to a general problem. For example, a project might address the question: “What is the geologic history (sequence of events) recorded in the stratigraphy and structural geology of the project region?” and address the question through detailed geologic mapping and observations (field skills) of the rock types, their sequence and geometries, and their topographic expressions. The products that illustrate the history can include a geologic map, a cross section, stereographic projections of planar and linear rock features, a stratigraphic column, and/or a written report or abstract. The rock record is never complete, nor is there always sufficient time to make a complete set of observations. The field approach to obtaining a workable geologic history is one of “multiple working hypotheses” – students learns to make predictions of what should be encountered at specific sites to test their hypotheses and new hypotheses are constructed (or old ones revised) on the basis of new data and observations.

What kinds of projects, artifacts, presentations, or performances do your students produce as a result of engaging in this process of inquiry?

The student field projects are designed to generate a variety of graphical interpretive products of geological relationships that are widely used throughout the profession. These include but are not limited to geologic maps, geologic cross sections, stratigraphic rock columns, stereographic projections of linear and planar rock features, field sketches and annotated field photographs. For certain projects this is all that is required. For others, they comprise illustrations within written reports that describe the geologic relationships as interpreted from the field data.

Please explain what independent work students will do in this course. If students are engaged in team-based projects, explain how every student will exercise responsibility for and independence with some portion of the project.

As stated above, students engage in independent work but do field surveys with a partner for safety reasons. This partner also provides a sounding board for discussion working hypotheses and for strategizing how best to complete a day’s survey. Evening work, where students compile, sort and analyze their observations, is done independently. Every student submits their own results. Teaching assistants and professors are available during the day and into the evenings for assistance.

How does the work that students produce in this course build upon skills or knowledge they have developed in previous coursework?

GEO 660 is traditionally thought of as the capstone course in our geological sciences program, and the students are compelled to use much of their prior course work to complete the assignments. While there are a number of different degree options, all share a common core curriculum of physical geology, and these fundamental elements of geology such as sedimentology, structural geology, rock properties, facies relationships, are all required to be successful in this course. It is a total immersion process into the science of geology, where both theory and technique are applied to type of problems that the students will face throughout their careers.

Please specify what percentage of the students’ grade is based on the process of inquiry as described above. Note that for a 3-hour course, at least one-third of the course grade must be based on the students’ independent investigation and presentation of their own work. (Students’ independent work must constitute one-half of the grade for 2-hour courses and all of the grade for 1-hour courses.)

The entire course is built around the process of independent inquiry and testing hypotheses, and the projects are the the basis for the entire grade of this 3 semester credit hour course.

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