By Geology Professor Emily Walsh

I love to tell my colleagues at other schools about the One Course At A Time curriculum at Cornell. Often they are skeptical about teaching and learning on such a short calendar, but as I answer them, I get increasingly excited about all the positive aspects of the One Course At A Time curriculum. For teaching geology, this might just be the ideal college schedule.

Why? The freedom of long class periods and the lack of other academic priorities for the students. The best place to learn about geology is in the field or in the lab where students can interact with the Earth, and with One Course At A Time I have the flexibility to take students out of the classroom. Even the most difficult concepts become clearer when you can stare at the rock, touch it, sketch it, follow it through the woods, hammer it, and examine it at length with a hand lens. As long as the field trips are in the syllabus at the start of class, I can schedule field trips of any length, ranging from half a day to several weeks.

Almost every geology course on the books at Cornell has a major field or lab component—even the introductory courses include several all-day field trips, and some are based around a series of field-based labs with little lecture involved. Majors are required to take at least one field course (the full block is spent in the field), and most of the upper-level courses include at least a weekend field trip. The first time I taught Igneous and Metamorphic Petrology, we (the professor included) were so exhausted by the end of three weeks that we decided to jump into a van and drive to southern Missouri to see the rocks in the field. No other system would enable such a spontaneous excursion. Since then, that three-day field trip has been part of the course syllabus.

Field trips benefit nearly every Cornell student who takes a geology course, but geology majors get the added benefit of research blocks. Every geology major at Cornell must complete at least one block of independent research; those who go on to graduate school after Cornell (a significant number) find out that a research block is the perfect way to prepare for the intensity and freedom of a graduate
research schedule. Performing research during a block requires self-motivation as well as self-discipline; while the students have regular meetings with their faculty mentor and other students in the research group, the majority of their time is spent reading the literature, writing proposals and papers, performing research, and interpreting data. Any student who has completed such a research block understands the necessity for self-motivation and self-discipline in graduate school and has the tools to succeed.

At this point I may pause to take a breath, but I have already convinced my colleagues. They all wish they taught on the One Course At A Time curriculum, too, and I realize again how fortunate I am to be teaching at Cornell College.