Field Planning Guiding Questions and Predictions

To help students understand the purpose of the field investigation, the instructor will begin by reviewing the impact of sounds and scents on people where they live. The instructor may have several students describe personal experiences with sounds and or smells and the impact those sensory experiences have had. The discussion should include a consideration of the sensory experiences as components of larger systems where the variability in perceived experiences is related to the interacting systems that produce the sensory output. Alternatively, the instructor may share a written, audio, or video report describing the impact of sounds or scents on a community. (Examples are provided below.) field planning software

After describing several experiences, the class should develop a list of reasons for the scientific documentation of the sensory impacts. Depending on the time available, the discussion can take place in groups with a report out to the class after five minutes, or the discussion can be a five-minute class discussion. A primary goal of this discussion is to explore the difference between anecdotal information and scientific data collected using a field investigation plan and established protocols. A secondary goal is to help students consider the possible uses of the data they collect, including the determination of the needs for and the location of future sample collection including that of air, water, and soil samples that would be collected for laboratory analyses.

Developing Guiding Questions and Predictions (20–30 min)

In the culminating activity for this module, students will work in groups to create a sensory map. To frame this project, the student groups should begin by developing a guiding question (i.e. research question) for their collection of smell or sound data.

Although researchers in different fields sometimes follow varied research processes, the process of research and inquiry across most disciplines includes one shared component: that work is driven by a guiding question, research question and/or set of hypotheses.

The instructor will explain that guiding questions should address the following goals:

  1. Answerable: The students have limited, but powerful tools at their disposal. They may choose to rely on their own sensory perceptions of sounds and smells. If the group chooses to examine sounds, they may choose to measure sound amplitude using a smart phone app. The guiding question should be answerable given these available tools. Examples of guiding questions:Answerable: Where is the quietest place in the library? NOT answerable (in this context): How does the type of noise affect student learning in the library?
  2. Specific: The students will have a limited amount of time to collect their data, and a more specific guiding question will likely lead to more interesting data and maps. This will also allow students to identify interesting patterns in their data. Examples of guiding questions: Sufficiently specific: What odors are present near Jackson Hall? NOT sufficiently specific: How do smells vary across campus?
  3. Interesting and applicable: The instructor should encourage students to develop a guiding question emerging from a topic of interest to them. Ultimately, the research should link to broader socio-environmental concerns. This goal addresses the “so what?” question associated with the group’s project. Students should begin to think about how exploring their guiding question might help better understand socio-environmental challenges. An example: If the students are interested in how forests buffer freeway noise, they may link to broader concerns about conservation and preservation of open space and the ecosystem services those spaces may provide.

The instructor should convene the groups and ask each group to brainstorm a set of guiding questions. Using the three considerations listed above to hone their ideas, each group should choose one guiding question for the final project. Each group will then present their guiding question, justifying their choice in light of the three considerations presented earlier.

Researchers also tend to begin their inquiry with a set of predictions, or hypotheses. These predictions may be established from prior research or extension of prior research, logic, personal experience, or even a “hunch.” Instructors should ask each group to create a set of predictions about their data. Students will work in their groups to create a series of predictions, using the following questions to guide their discussion:

  • What findings do you expect to uncover with your data? What patterns are you likely to see? What leads you to these predictions?
  • How might the characteristics of the research impact your findings?
  • How might environmental conditions impact your findings?

After groups have completed this activity, they will briefly report their predictions and justification for those predictions to the class.