Robert Raeside

The year 2000 - supposedly a banner year as we turn the calendar from one millennium to another. A good year too to look back at where we have come from and where we are going. You may recall from the last newsletter and from mailings you received from the university, the Geology Department was part of a complex review of Geology, Biology and Environmental Science, in which we were doing just that. The results of the review were received by the University Senate early in 2000, and will serve as a benchmark for us for several years to come. At this point we want to thank again all those of you who were contacted and who responded - your input was noted by the review committee as a very positive aspect of the process.

The year 2000 also has seen the conclusion of the process of introduction of Acadia Advantage teaching across the entire curriculum. This year, the fourth-year courses are included in "AA", and all undergraduate students have laptops at their beck and call. There is no doubt that our students are more computer-savvy than they have ever been - all graduates are now fluent in whole ranges of applications, from word-processing to graphics programs, from core-logging software to thermodynamic calculations, and of course web browsing and music acquisition. Increasingly, papers are being written with web resources, and as the contents of the university library gradually shift from paper to electronic, it becomes increasingly difficult for students to distinguish between the traditional "paper" and variably reliable internet publications.

Three years ago, as we were embarking on this initiative, I wrote then that we were still finding out how to use computers in teaching. Today things are no different. We have tried many tacks - some have worked very well, some have not. It seems that our lectures now have more information in them - and that students can come to listen instead of madly scribbling down every word the prof says. But is that to their advantage? Writing it out means it has to pass through the brain en route from the eyes to the hand, with the possibility that some of it might lodge there. Labs can use the same kind of software as is used in industry - but do students get caught up in the 'how to' rather than understanding the principles that the labs are designed to teach?

The Acadia Advantage initiative has enabled us to make several exciting developments in the areas of teaching and learning. All courses have websites that contain the definitive information about the course, and are available day and night, whenever the student wants it. Many professors have composed sophisticated lectures that can be reviewed before or after class. Images of current phenomena are available to analyze in courses like Geomorphology, Tectonics or Climate. Some classes are migrating from the traditional lecture and lab formula to a more flexible "studio" model, where the practical work is introduced and conducted by the student in a supervised environment at his/her own rate.

Perhaps one of the best measures of the success of the initiative is that students are often unaware of how well adapted they are to the wired world. We have to remind them constantly that adding computer skills on their résumés is something that future employers still expect to see!