Technology, Accuracy and Scientific Thought in Field Camp: An Ethnographic Study

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Articles and Special Issues
Feig, A. D. (2010). Technology, Accuracy and Scientific Thought in Field Camp: An Ethnographic Study. Journal of Geoscience Education, 58(4), 241-251.
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An ethnographic study was conducted on an undergraduate field course to observe and document lived experiences of students. This paper evaluates one of several emergent themes: that of technology dependence, and how it informs students’ understanding of scientific reality. In the field, students tried to arm themselves with as high a degree of precision as possible. They assumed that technology was equated with precision, and in turn, precision with scientific reality; i.e., accuracy. Students rejected the notion that in some situations, low levels of precision may be “good enough” to be accurate. This theme of technology dependence suggests five broad implications. First, students are rarely taught, and rarely understand, the difference between precision and accuracy. Second, students should be taught to appraise a situation to apply an appropriate level of precision, rather than to assume that more is better. Third, students should be taught to value the process of doing things “by hand,” such as locating oneself on a topographic map. Fourth, students should have ample opportunity to explore the complexities of physical and scientific reality. Finally, field camp is a late opportunity for shaping the professional growth of future geoscientists, and thus deserves a prominent place in geoscience curricula.

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