Teaching with GeoPads

published Mar 19, 2010 8:42am
By David Mogk, Montana State University

Field geology is benefiting greatly from digital technologies of all kind. In particular, the use of ruggedized laptop and palmtop computers with integrated GPS, GIS, data management, and note-taking software presents a fundamentally new way to map and collect other data in the field. This combination of integrated technologies, generically called a "GeoPad", can offer exciting avenues in teaching field geology and geologic mapping. The use of this field-based computer technology is fast becoming the industry standard, and presents an important new dimension of instruction to better prepare our students for future careers in the geosciences. Be part of the growing community that is using these exciting new capabilities to support teaching and learning in the field.

The Teaching with GeoPads website (http://serc.carleton.edu/research_education/geopad/index.html ) was developed to aggregate the best advice and practical experience of early innovators in the use of GeoPads, and to make this information broadly available for faculty and students who are interested in integrating this technology into their own field-based teaching and research. This technology can provide significant barriers to both teaching and learning in the field, and our goal was to lower barriers to encourage broader use of field-based computer technology in geoscience instruction across the curriculum. This site provides practical advice on selecting software and hardware, required preparation of faculty and students, accessing and formatting data, designing and implementing instructional activities, and logistical issues (safe use of instruments in the field, energy requirements). In addition, "best instructional practices" in using GeoPads are described, including learning goals, expected outcomes, and assessment strategies.

By bringing digital technology into the field, the traditional skills of mapping and note taking are directly integrated with access to a wide array of geoscience databases, visualization applications, and other information sources. This allows students to engage much deeper levels of decision-making, problem-solving, and critical-thinking while still in the field setting. This technology also allows instructors to more closely monitor the progress of student projects in the field, and to assess the process as well as the products of student field work With respect to teaching with GeoPads, modules are developed on implications of using GPS on the student experience (concerns and benefits), mapping projects, and taking notes with GeoPad (including annotated sketches, clippings, photos, image mark-ups).

Special thanks go to the GeoPad Working Group for sharing their experience and advice on how to develop a field instruction program using GeoPads. Geoscience colleagues are encouraged to use this website, provide feedback, and add to the growing resource base of GeoPad-based teaching activities.