11 September 2018

Access Anglesey

When I was about to do my first lecture in my first module I thought of the scientific information in my head and how I could turn that into words in a lecture room. I didn’t really think yet about what the variability was of the people in the lecture theatre regarding how they experience the world. But once you get going you notice really fast that your class rooms are full of people who are hindered by anxiety, or who may be autistic and prefer to learn in a quiet environment, or who have any kind of personal ways of doing things. We also have a student in a wheelchair of which we often wonder how we are going to accommodate him on fieldwork. Can we drive him there in a big 4WD? Should we send a drone in to film the environment so he can see it from his living room? All that sort of stuff.

Then we decided to organise a new field module for the freshers. We would show them the geology of Anglesey as it is very interesting. And we started preparing.

Then an email came in; Leeds university (in colaboration with the International Association for Geoscience Diversity, and the associated Diversty in Geoscience UK) was organising a field course for students who struggle, for some reason or another, with ‘regular’ fieldwork. They would go to Anglesey for a week. And they were looking for both participants, and observers. The observers would be there basically to steal all the good ideas and take them back to their own universities. And I had been pondering very much how to cater for students with special needs, and I was quite keen to get some outside ideas on the geology of Anglesey. So I figured out if Bangor was willing to pay me to attend. And at the last minute they did! So I registered and looked forward to it. 

I didn’t start very well. As far as I could tell, they had told us we were welcome at the accommodation from 4PM. No further information. So I just figured I rock up any time. I should have asked! It was a good reminder to myself that I shouldn’t do what I don’t want my students to do. I f I don’t know something (such as when to arrive): just ask. One day I’ll learn! I rocked up when everybody else was having dinner. I joined in. Everyone seemed nice! 

The next morning I got up early and went for a run. I knew the place wasn’t far from the coastal path and I hadn’t run for a while. It was lovely! Such amazing landscape.  After I got back we had breakfast; after breakfast was cleared, sandwich ingredients appeared; we made our own packed lunch. Great! I had been a bit apprehensive about losing all control over my food for an entire week but my worries were unjustified. Breakfast and dinner (veggie for me, but to my delight they reared their own pigs so a lot of the meat the others ate was from happy livestock) were fine too!
With my packed lunch I jumped into one of the vehicles. I ended up with Chris from Ohio (and the IAGD) and Hannah from Glasgow; they were both there too as observers. We went to Parys Mountain. I had been several times, but never scientifically! Now I would find out what this place was about. And it was a lovely day to do that. 

Our accommodation at about 7AM

The rugged coastline in morning light

That first day, the full force of inclusive technology came out; in order to understand the geology, you had to stand on the edge of the big pit and get the overview, but also descend into it and have a closer look. We could all do the former, but we had three wheelchair users and they couldn’t do the latter. So a set of masts was put up, and a tent erected with a laptop and a screen, and the leading geologists were hung full of microphones and walkie-talkies and whatnot. With all that faff it was possible at the top of the pit to see a live feed of the geologists explaining stuff, ask questions, and steer the camera wherever they wanted it. I suppose it was the closest thing to being there yourself you could get! And what was there to get? I knew the place was brimming with hydrothermal activity, but now we had a more detailed explanation. We saw actual deposits of black smoker smoke, and the hydrothermal channels that fed them. Cool!

Pyrite in a quartz matrix. A rock from Parys Mountain seen through my hand lens. 

Trevor films Dan who is explaining the hydrothermal ducts to the people at the edge of the quarry

View back to the people at the edge of the quarry. Notice the fold underneath their feet.

After lunch we did some water sampling in four ponds. Later the students would do measurements on these. Parys Mountain is notorious for its aggressive chemistry; what would we find? And when we had all the samples we needed we went back to the accommodation. We were there about 5pm. Dinner is served at 6pm. Chris wanted to go to the pub. Would we have time enough? We tried! Hannah knew the way from the coastal path, and I knew where the coastal path was. I had run there! But it took us a long time to get there. We had ten minutes to order and down a beer. Oh dear! But we tried. And pretty much made it. We sat in the sun with the beautiful view and it was great! And on the way back we took a more direct route. I had inadvertently added a bit of a loop to our route! So we were back in time for dinner. And then the debrief. 

The next day we went to Red Wharf Bay. I know that place! We take the students there ourselves. But we go there as historical geologists, and these Leeds people are structural geologists and petrologists and they look at things in a different way. They skipped the whole background (where was the land at that time? Where was what? ) and went straight into detail. But what detail! I learned an awful lot about the place. 

 Driving the 4WD with the wheelchair users onto the beach

The weather cleared

We had lunch at the caravan park, and after lunch went to visit the Marquess of Anglesey. He’s famously standing on some Blueschist. That is rock that has been deep inside a subduction zone, but has come back up without being altered since having been that deep. That’s quite rare! Hence the fame of the Marquess. He is standing on a bit of a hill, though, with a small path leading up. Would the wheelchairs be able to get there? First the chap in the electric wheelchair gave it a go. He got there! Then the chap with the muscle-powered wheelchair (with knobbly tyres) gave it a go. He got stuck at a big root. The chap in the electric wheelchair shouted down that if he could find some place to sit someone could drive his wheelchair down and get the other wheelchair users. What a good idea! I could imagine that wheelchair users are a bit protective of their kit, but clearly not this chap. So everyone made it to the outcrop. Success! We looked at the deformation of the rock and called it a day. 

After we came back I had a chat with one of the students who had spoken about what university was like for him as an autist. I figured I could learn something here! So I had asked if he was willing to elaborate. And he was! Very useful. I will immediately implement some of the things he said in the new semester.

The day after was for Lligwy beach. We had gone there too during our preparations. I like the place! We stared at the sandstones and muds and had a good time. The weather was still lovely! And it was getting socially nicer as well as I had got to know people a bit. That always makes a difference.
After Lligwy Bay we did Cemlyn Bay. I had not been there for scientific reasons! I didn’t quite know what to expect. There were phyllites there, and some strange greenstone grit. And there was a beautifully exposed thrust fault. And a seal in the water! But things got complicated. I ended up in a discussion with Ian, another observer; we sort of assume the deformation on Anglesey is generally Silurian. But if you look closely, you see that the Devonian rocks are deformed too. So it must have happened later. But how did that fit in the narrative then? All I thought I knew I had to reconsider. Complicated. But exciting! And I tried to talk lots with the students during the day. I’m here to learn! It turned out we had quite a lot of people on the autism spectrum, and a lady with ADHD, and lots of dyslexia and some dyspraxia and whatnot. I don’t know about everyone. One bloke had been banned from fieldwork by his university. It was cool to see him have a good and academically productive time here! And everybody else too, of course, but for this guy especially it couldn’t be taken for granted.  

 Staring at Old Red Sandstone on Lligwy Bay

 Phyllites and Wylfa power station

When we got back it was again one of those days in which we perhaps could get ten minutes to down a pint in the pub. We were just about to set off, when we were called. It was Ian, who had come by car, and who suggested he drive us. That’s quicker! We took up the offer, and had yet another pint (an alcohol-free one for Ian) in the sun. Nice! We didn’t really have to hurry now we had fast transport.
That night I had to do quite a lot of work emails (as far as I could; internet was very weak at the accommodation) and I of course also had to sort out my notes. It was a busy night! I got to bed tired and decided to set my alarm 45 minutes later than my newly established routine, and ditch my morning run. And the next morning it was very bad weather so I wasn’t sorry. 

That day we would go to Llanddwyn Island. It’s lovely!  We first looked at the pillow lavas there, and then at the melange at the tip of the peninsula. And in the afternoon, the sun came out. Lovely! And when we got back there was plenty of time for the pub. I did not feel much thirst for alcohol after so much pub time already but it’s nice to have some social time and a change of scene. Lots of people joined this time! That was nice.

Animated discussion about rock. Pic by Jan

Llanddwyn Island (with a mast for relaying recordings of teaching to those who couldn't come to the beach)

The next morning I was fresh again for a morning run. I was sharing a room with two other ladies, and one of the other ones tended to go for a run at the exact same time. The third would get out of bed only marginally later, so we were a well-adjusted team. Especially as the similar times of rising were inspiring similar times of going to bed. And it was a bit of a culture shock to share a bedroom, especially for over a week, but it was OK. I sometimes slept with earplugs. 

On Friday we stayed close to home. We were supposed to go to Rhosneigr, that I looked forward to, but that plan had been binned as the organisers thought we would be running out of time. So we were off to the nearby coastguard watchout. This stands on top of some quartzites, which form sequences with pelites. Altogether it’s proximal to distal turbidites. And they are beautifully folded in places! Really like I had never seen it before. 

Waking down to the exposed rocks

And what kind of rocks! 

Selfie with Chris

When we were done looking at them in detail it was time to go back. It was so close some of us wanted to go on foot. I had run pretty much all the way to the watchout so I went along. Not that this bunch can’t find their way along the Coastal Path, but well, one can’t be too sure. It was nice! I lead them the quick way but it turned out they wanted to do the full loop. I didn’t feel like that. I went back and they went on. At the accommodation I found Ian jumping up and down in impatience. He doesn’t drink at all, but he wanted to go to the pub! So I joined him. I thought others would show up later but nobody did. 

The day after would be a day of geological mapping. The students were supposed to do the Rhoscolyn area. Some would go into the field; others would do it indoors via some really snazzy software. I looked forward to that! But the weather was atrocious so everyone stayed inside. But the software was impressive! You could really map the area with it. There were also some petrological microscopes out. I had fun looking at thin sections from the rocks we had seen along the way! I hadn’t done anything with a petrological microscope since, I don’t know, my second year in uni or something. And there were forams in the limestone!

Digital mapping on one table; petrology on the other. Pic by Jan

Phyllite under the microscope

We also did a debrief with all observers. Also included was a companion; students with complex needs sometimes come with one. She had some amazing insights too! 

Later we did a scientific debrief. And a group photo. And then we went to the pub with the biggest crowd so far. It was nice! Quite a lot of students had social anxiety issues and that we got so many to a challenging place like a pub was evidence of the atmosphere of trust and relaxation that had been achieved. Success! 

From the scientific debrief 

 Everybody! (Except Jason who left early). Pic by Ian

I had thought in advance I might scoot off that evening, but I decided against. In for a penny, in for a pound! I could sleep one night more in a room with two others. And then my lovely house would get attention again on Sunday. So I joined the fire that had been lit outside, and I got drawn in (not for the first time) into a complicated jigsaw puzzle challenge. For some reason, there were two near-identical puzzles and the pieces had ended up mixed up. Believe me; it’s quite a task to sort that! 

The next morning I woke up early due to a roommate having to go to the loo at 6:15 so I was out for a run extra early. It was still stunning! And after that it was time to have a shower, pack my stuff, say goodbye to everybody and drive home. It had been a good week! I had learned a lot about the geology of Anglesey, I had learned about using technology to make fieldwork accessible to all, and I had learned about the low-tech changes you can make to let people with a wider variety of neurological states learn stuff about the Earth (or whatever else, for that matter). And on top of that: I had spent a week at a lovely location with lovely people! And now I’ll go back to my day job and try to make a difference…

NB some lovely pics from Ian on Flickr here

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