Experiential Learning through Volcanic Hazard Simulations


Grant program: Teaching and Learning Development Grant (TLDG)

Grant recipient: Glyn Williams-Jones, Department of Earth Sciences.

Project team: Jeffrey Zurek, research assistants, Megan Dewit, teaching assistant, and Melanie Kelman, Geological Survey of Canada

Timeframe: June 2014 to January 2016

Funding: $7,500

Course addressed: EASC 421 – Volcanology

Final report: View Glyn Williams-Jones' final project report (PDF)

Interim report: View Glyn Williams-Jones' interim project report (PDF)

Description: The lack of historically active volcanism in Canada means students typically view a Canadian “volcanic crisis” as purely hypothetical, although Mt. Baker, visible from Burnaby Mountain for instance, would have an impact on the lower mainland.  Students are also currently not trained in how to communicate with scientists, emergency managers, or the public in an appropriate and cultural sensitive manner.

We plan to address this by expanding the field component of EASC 421 Volcanology by implementing an interactive scenario-based role-playing volcanic hazard simulation using a number of eruption scenarios (e.g., Mt Meager, Nazko and Mt. Baker).  We believe that this approach will help address the issues we’ve identified and train future geologists and volcanologists with the geologic and transferable skills (e.g., teamwork, communication, rapid decision-making) necessary to respond to an intense “real world” crisis situation.  Our work expands upon a successful Volcanic Hazards Simulation developed by Dr. Jacqueline Dohaney, University of Canterbury for Mt. Tongariro and the Auckland Volcanic field; and was recently tested with SFU students in EASC 421 (Fall 2013).  We plan to study the effectiveness of this type of simulation in a Canadian context of limited volcanic activity.

This project will take place in two stages.  The first will consist of preparation and design of the labs and simulations. Our goal is to develop 2 Canadian scenarios and potentially a 3rd US/Canadian scenario with colleagues at Western Washington University.  We will also design questionnaires and checklists to help assess our efforts.  The second part of the project consists of the implementation and evaluation of the simulation.

This project is inherently experiential in nature and the simulation may prove to be a useful pedagogical tool in other EASC or GEOG courses dealing with natural hazards (e.g., ESC 209 Environmental Geoscience).   Furthermore, once the material is developed, tested and refined, this simulation (and associated labs) will be implemented in all future offerings of EASC 421 Volcanology at no additional cost to the department.

Questions addressed:

  • Awareness: Will a simulation effectively raise student awareness in the context of limited volcanic activity?
  • Communication/Team work: Are students able to effectively work as a team, manage their time and communicate between groups in a high pressure situation?
  • Self/peer assessment: How do student assessment (of self and peers) compare to assessment by instructor and professional observers?

Knowledge sharing: During the first implantation of this project, a number of interested colleagues (within Earth Sciences, Geography and possibly Communications) will be asked to sit in and observe parts of the simulation.  Furthermore, local emergency response managers will also be invited to attend.