It is important that the students develop the data collection protocols and test them prior to executing this unit. The students need to understand what is to be collected, how it is to be collected, and the justification for the collection protocol.
Study areas should be easily accessible sites that align with the group’s guiding questions. The instructor may wish to identify potential areas of interest by visiting them prior to the assignment. However, if students are aware that an area has been preselected, they are likely to attempt to identify what they think the instructor wants them to find rather than being open to a unique experience. Alternatives to off-campus sites include areas on campus or within campus buildings. Working inside a building removes the variables associated with weather, such as air temperature and wind, which can change the sensory experience. Indoors, scents and sounds tend to be more consistent and can be more readily traced to their sources; for example, scents tend to follow the air flow within a building. This has the advantage of enabling students to more easily trace a “contamination” plume back to its source but the disadvantage of losing the complexity inherent in more natural environments. field planning software
Groups may study the same area or different areas depending on the overall goals of the instructor and their guiding questions. In either case, the groups will be able to compare their data sets. If groups work in the same neighborhoods, they will be able to look for similarities and differences and analyze the potential sources of differing results.
Base map selection and use will depend on the prior experience of the students and may be addressed in prior units of the course. Base map options include:
- A paper USGS Topographic Quadrangle. This is the type of base map most commonly used by geoscientists. The characteristics and use would typically be covered in a lab or lecture unit in most introductory geoscience courses; this is a good option in such courses. Students may photocopy the relevant portion of the map, use tracing paper to develop a base map with relevant features, or may acquire an original map.
- Aerial imagery is available from a wide variety of sources including Google Maps, MapQuest, Yahoo Maps, and Google Earth. Each of these is easy to use and allows students to zoom in to an appropriate scale and print a custom area. Google Earth requires special (free) software and allows students to plot points and display data. As with a topographic map, students can use tracing paper to develop a base map with relevant features.
- Direct field mapping is a useful skill and allows students to create maps that display only relevant data. Developing a good sketch map requires practice in order to maintain scale and map efficiently. Students would need to assign a member of the group to develop a base sketch map prior to fieldwork, and the instructor would need to provide special instruction if students had not received it in a previous class.
A number of multi-platform smartphone apps can be used to collect sound data. The Noisetube app has been heavily tested and calibrated for different smartphone models. It also provides a user-friendly interface. Students using this type of app need to recognize that volume is only one way to measure sounds. They should also identify (and record) other aspects of the sounds they are measuring. It is important to emphasize to students that simply recording the strength of a sound is not enough to characterize a location.
Field data collection takes place within a complex of interacting systems. Environmental scientists working in the field need to make observations and choose sampling locations based on extant environmental conditions; likewise, students may need to develop a field plan that allows for adjustment based on conditions such as wind direction and speed, air temperature, and the location of potentially impacted populations. The field investigation plan needs to include the observation and recording of relevant environmental conditions; students should be explicit about the conditions that will be recorded.
A field investigation team works best when team members take on different, complementary roles; each group needs to consider the strengths of the members and assign roles accordingly. The final data plans should, at a minimum, include: assigned data collectors, a copy of the protocols to be used, a base map of the area, a table for data entry, a schedule, a place to record field conditions (weather, traffic, etc.). The plans may include other duty assignments such as: field team leader, safety officer, public relations officer, recorder, and mapper.