“We see a lot of development in the students throughout the week… they get a lot of feedback because everything is laid out for them” – Dr. Brandon Karchewski
Dr. Brandon Karchewski, along with several other colleagues (K. Innanen, R. Lauer) in the Department of Geoscience, teaches GOPH 549, Geophysics Field School. This is a week-long course where upper-year geophysics students are taken to a location near Pincher Creek, Alberta, where they use various types of equipment and surveying techniques to collect and interpret data directly from the location they are studying. This is a unique opportunity for students to apply both their knowledge of geophysics and their professional skills of teamwork, organization and participation in field work. Dr. Karchewski and his teaching team have developed the assessments for the course to help the students get the most out of their field experience.
The field work and assessments in the course are done in small teams. To promote the professional atmosphere of the field school, students are organized into teams based on a self-scored questionnaire assessing their preparation and motivation. Students grade themselves out of twenty on academic background, practical experience and teamwork skills. They add their scores in each category together for a cumulative score, which is handed to Dr. Karchewski. He makes sure that students know that there is no course grade associated with the survey and that it is important to be honest when self-assessing. The students are divided so that each group has an equal combination of students who gave themselves high, average and low scores. There are almost no issues within groups, because students have some ownership over how they are placed.
Students spend each of the five days of field school collecting data using a variety of geophysical methods: seismic reflection, seismic refraction, electric resistivity tomography (ERT) and ground penetrating radar (GPR). Every evening, they develop algorithms in order to interpret and use the information that was collected. They summarize their algorithm in a poster, which is due every morning before the start of field work for that day. The posters are graded prior to the next poster session, with a thoughtfully developed rubric. The rubric means that students can see what was done well and what can be improved, and the rapid feedback allows students to make improvements almost immediately. Dr. Karchewski always sees an improvement in the quality of the posters as the week progresses. The nature of the field school means that the majority of student work is completed in a short time period. Having daily feedback is important in a condensed course like this, because otherwise students will not have the chance to develop and improve their skills.
Providing students with extensive, clear rubrics for feedback is also important because it helps students know exactly what is important for the poster assignments and where they should put their focus. The rubrics also provide a starting place for individual discussions about grades. If a student disagrees with their grade on an assignment, they can look at the specific components of the rubric that they are concerned about. This leads to more efficient and effective discussions between Dr. Karchewski and his students.
It can be a challenge to get lots of posters graded in such a short period of time, but the rubric helps guide Dr. Karchewski and his colleagues through the grading. Students can get a lot out of the course, and the use of rubrics help them use their assessments to improve their work. The feedback promotes improvement and focus throughout the course. Dr. Karchewski sees the value of putting the time and effort into creating thoughtful rubrics and giving constant feedback. Students are not always used to having so many clear expectations and so much feedback throughout a course. They always enjoy their field experience and get a lot of learning and benefits from their assessments and feedback.