Inspiring discoveries beyond the lecture hall
Rink, a geochronologist in the School of Geography and Earth Sciences, is developing techniques to foster some rapport between him and the 175 students who have signed up to take his GeoScience Adventurers and Explorers course. This is the first time the third-year course has been offered.
"I'm getting a lot of practice roaming the aisles (of lecture hall MDCL 1102)," he says by way of explaining how he needs to make a more conscious effort to work the room in order to foster a sense of rapport between him and the students. "It takes some getting used to, on my part and the students', but we seem to be off to a great start."
He acknowledges that some students seem a bit intimidated by the size of the class, but he's certain that will fade as familiarity with the set-up increases. "We've already had some stimulating discussions."
The technology available in MDCL is helping to make the class size less daunting.
"The document camera is amazing," he says. "I use it all the time as a teaching aid. You place an item on it - I've used it to show old maps and volcanic rock -- and it projects the item on the screen. It saves trying to gather 200 students around a table to look at a sample."
"There's also an onboard computer at the lectern," he adds. "We recently downloaded a new piece of software called Google Earth. It's a program whereby the entire planet has been mapped; you can click on any place on Earth and fly over it at whatever altitude you want."
The course itself is an exciting addition to the curriculum. It examines the discoveries made by explorers of modern times -- on the moon and on Mars, in deep and shallow waters, and across landscapes inhabited by the earliest life forms, dinosaurs and the first humans.
"I really want students to get excited about reading the original narratives of the explorers," says Rink. Much of the material has never been taught in the context of a university course. Students will read original studies from Darwin, they'll look over the original transcripts from space missions. There is an ulterior motive to the reading and watching of the course load.
"I want students to learn that discoveries aren't made from the comfort of their computer terminal," Rink says. "You have to go into snake-infested caves, climb mountains, spend days in a desert digging under the hot glare of the sun, withstand storms and a myriad of conditions. By reading the diaries of explorers I'm hoping the reality of exploring, the heart-stopping excitement, will come through, that the students will appreciate what's been done in the name of exploring, and will be inspired to go off on their own expeditions."