Robert Raeside

When I meet a former student of Geology, especially one who has been away from Acadia for more than two or three years, I often get asked "how are things at Acadia these days?" I find it increasingly difficult to reply in a concise manner. I could say, "You wouldn't recognise the place", but that wouldn't really be true - the rooms and buildings (and even some of the displays in the cabinets around the department) are still very much the same as they have been for the last many years. However, if the inquirer were to stick around for a few days, he/she would begin to see what I mean. First, the department is a much busier place - there are more large classes, especially in the second-year courses. The line-up to get into the Mineralogy tests stretches all the way along the corridor, the main classroom on third floor Huggins gets very full (people even sit at the front bench!), and after several years "the corner" (by the main entry to the Geology floor) has again become the place to hang out (it helps to have two couches there, donated by former students who must have moved from self-furnished accommodation to more luxuriously equipped facilities).

Another area of change that would be very apparent to returning alumni is the increased computerisation of everything. Alumni from the 1980's may remember working their ways through norm calculations in Sandra Barr's Igneous Petrology course - first you did them by hand, then you did them by computer. Some may even have felt that it was easier by hand than it was by computer, by the time you accessed the program, and got all the data in order. Under the maxim that if I had to do it, then everyone else should too, you will be glad to know that students still calculate the norms by hand, before doing it by computer - but the computers are now much more user-friendly and they do a lot more too. After the norms are calculated, they can be plotted in any shape of geochemical space to determine the rock type or affinity.

Computers are increasingly prevalent in other courses too - this has been a gradual phenomenon, but it gained a lot of momentum in the past three years when Acadia provided individual computer accounts for all students. Now, in the ten-minute break between classes, instead of dashing to the Fletcher Club room for a coffee or a smoke (those days are long gone!), students head for the computers to check their e-mail. Acadia's servers process 30,000 e-mail messages a day - there is a lot of communication happening! The most recent move in the computers world is the much heralded Acadia Advantage. You have probably read about this major initiative that the university has taken, to provide lap-top computers for all students by 2000, and integrate them into our teaching. This year the pilot group of students was in Physics, Computer Science and other faculties, but next year all entering students will be in the scheme. It will be another year before it has a major effect on the Geology program, because over half the students in the first-year Geology courses are not in their first year at university. However, most faculty are looking forward (some with more enthusiasm than others) to the opportunities that will be made possible by universal access to powerful computers. Already many sites have sprung up on the World Wide Web that provide worthwhile material for teaching. (If you have internet access, have a browse in the Geology Department home page - in the "Hot Geology Links" section you will find links to sites that display or discuss crystallography, geomorphology, structural geology, volcanoes and earthquakes, granites, and meteorology, as well as connections to many of the major geological organisations.)

A third area of change that would be apparent to a visitor to the department is the focus that some of today's students have on their studies. We have always enjoyed working with many students who are enthusiastic about their classes, but the intensity of some students seems to have reached a new level in the past couple of years. This is both good and bad - perhaps some of you as graduates have wished you worked a little harder in certain courses, but it does come with a cost. There is a greater tendency to focus everything on the final mark in the course, at the expense of restricting the broader geological experience gained by attending invited lectures, participating on voluntary field trips, and exposing themselves to the broader geological community, outside the university. It is not clear what is driving this change - are today's students simply more serious about their studies, or is it the job market that is perceived as being more competitive, driving students to be more competitive even among themselves?

So, in summary, next time I meet one of our alumni/alumnae, and you ask me "how are things at Acadia", be prepared. You may get a longer answer than you thought. Better still, why not drop by and find out - there is (nearly) always someone around, and our displays do change from time to time!